Friday, September 25, 2009

Nelly Arcan (1973-3009)

Image from LeDevoir

So, I suspect I'm probably the only one who this matters to on this blog, but a fabulous young Quebecois writer named Nelly Arcan (born Isabelle Fortier) was found dead yesterday in her Montreal apartment.

Arcan gained international fame and was nominated for France's prestigious Prix Femina for her book Putain (translated into English as Whore), which was a frank exploration of her life as a sex-trade worker. She then followed this up with Folle (Crazy), a rather heartbreaking story of a dysfunctional relationship with a coke-head French journalist, and how her life and her relationship was complicated by her endless struggles with self-esteem. Set in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal, and using the narrative frame of a series of memories of conversations with her dead grandfather, the book explored themes of alienation, self-abuse, and the desire to be loved. (Note: My friend Amilie lent me this book, and it took me about six months to read--my first novel in French--but I thought it was one of the better books I've read in the last few years.)

I posted, a few years back, a quote from her on this blog about how auto-biography had worked for her in the past, but she was tired of the public self-sacrifice that it involved, and wanted to leave that behind.

Her third book, A Ciel Ouvert (In the Open Sky), did this, being more a pure work of fiction and less autobiographical than her first two, while her fourth book, Paradis Clef en Main (Heaven's Gatekeeper-- my bad translation), is due to come out in a few months, and so some people are already questioning whether her "death" is a publicity stunt.

(What follows is from the website)

Montreal writer Pierre Thibeault worked with Arcan at the magazine Ici, and at TV's Canal Vox.

He said Friday she was the most important feminist writer in Quebec in recent years.

But, he said, the young author tended to keep to herself.

"She was a mysterious person. She was a real writer, and what I mean by that is she was not talking much about her personal life or the work she was doing. If she was writing a book she was not talking about it to people. If she was writing it, she was keeping it to herself," Thibeault said.

Nelly Arcan was 36 years old.

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