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Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert and Daniel Laforest, eds. Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne

Edmonton: U of Alberta P, 2017. 264 p. ISBN: 9 7817 7212 2701. CA$ 49.95
Corinne Bigot
p. 151-152
Bibliographical reference

Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienne. Edited by Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert and Daniel Laforest. Edmonton: U of Alberta P, 2017. 264 p. ISBN: 978-1-77212-270-1. CA$ 49.95.

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1This volume gathers twelve essays, in French and English, that examine nineteenth-, twentieth- and twenty-first-century texts by Anglophone and Francophone writers – Moodie, Beaugrand, Fréchette, Martin, Kroetsch, Wiebe, Chong, Kulyk-Keefer, Brand, Hage, Murakami, Quatermain, Chicoine, and Gale. The essays analyze representations of specific spaces such as Francophone Canada, the Prairie, the North, Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City. Various genres, from life writing – including travel writing and autofiction – to novels and poetry, are examined. The bilingual introduction explains that the volume intends to articulate space and memory, investigating Canada within its regional, national, continental, global and cosmopolitan contexts. Referring to Cynthia Sugars and Eleanor Ty’s 2014 collection, Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory, which drew attention to undervalued facets of Canadian cultural memory, this volume purports to expand the comprehension of memory “as articulated to an effective Canadian landscape” (xii).

2The opening piece, by Sherry Simon, is a very brief contribution evoking Montreal’s Yiddish culture and the different ways it was transmitted, from the 1940s to the 1980s. The second essay, “The Archive and the Alleyway,” is a compelling and well-argued examination of The Invisibility Exhibit (2008) by Sachiko Murakami and Vancouver Walking (2005) by Meredith Quatermain. Erin Wunker shows that as they look at the alleyways of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the poets/walkers, who see the city of Vancouver as a living archive, draw attention to what is usually overlooked, or hidden. The essay ends with close readings of their works, showing that Quatermain revisits the tradition of the Canadian documentary poem, layering lost or erased memories (for instance Chinese casualties when the railway was constructed) with present visions, and that Murakami evokes Vancouver’s missing women – 69 women living in the margin of society who disappeared in the 1980s –, reorienting the reader’s eye from the streets of the city to its alleyways.

3The second part opens with Smaro Kamboureli’s challenging reading of Rawi Hage’s Cockroach (2008). Kamboureli uses Heidegger’s notion of unforgetting to analyze the protagonist’s condition of “unbelonging.” Kamboureli argues that unforgetting and unbelonging enable the character to find agency and resist institutions. Focusing on the trope of therapy in the novel, she points out that Hage warns us against fetishizing memory. The third contribution, by Jennifer Bowering-Delisle, is devoted to Canadian family memoirs by Michael Ondaatje (Running in the Family, 1993), Janice Kulyk-Keefer (Honey and Ashes, 1998), Denise Chong (The Concubine’s Children, 1994) and Judy Fong-Bates (The Year of Finding Memory, 2010), and the “genealogical nostalgia” they foreground. Bowering-Delisle uses Eaton’s concept of “the story of the story” to show that in these memoirs, the research project is a crucial aspect of the narrative. “Diaspora, Loss, and Melancholic Agency: Mapping the Fields between Susanna Moodie and Dionne Brand,” by L. Camille van der Marel, is a well-argued, in-depth analysis of two texts that have already received a lot of critical attention – Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush (1852) and Brand’s A Map of No Return (2001). Drawing attention to their ambiguities, the author proposes to read Moodie’s settler colonial narrative and Brand’s transnational narrative together. In so doing, she demonstrates that we should not cleave Canada’s colonial past from its transnational present. Van der Marel sees the possibility of drawing a “transhistorical community” between these two women. Arguing that loss “roots” the author in the land, she reads them with Butler’s concept of melancholic agency, contending that it is what enables Moodie and Brand to locate themselves within and against the state, and to finally reterritorialize space.

4The third part is devoted to Francophone writers. Samantha Cook examines the critical reception of Claire Martin’s autobiography, Dans un gant de fer (1965). Louise Gaboury-Diallo’s essay analyzes Jean Chicoine’s Les galaxies nos voisines (2007) and La forêt du langage (2010), suggesting that through language, Chicoine revisits common places to defamiliarize them so that they too become symbols of his otherness. Pamela Sing compares Beaugrand’s 1892 folktale, “Le loup-garou,” with its translation by Beaugrand himself, six years later. In her reading, she sees each version as having a different goal, as the representation of French Canada in these two versions varies according to the expected readership.

5The fourth section, “Towards a New Memory,” opens with a stimulating essay by André Lamontagne. Analyzing Originaux et détraqués (1892), a collection of portraits of marginal characters by Louis Fréchette, Lamontagne debunks the idea that Quebec and its inhabitants are often merely represented as “pure laine” (the idea that Quebec’s inhabitants are white, francophone and Catholic). He further demonstrates that Quebec city, and not only Montreal, has played an important role in the conception of Quebec’s literary history and the celebration of cultural memory. Janne Korkka examines fictional and non-fictional works by Robert Kroetsch (Completed Field Notes, 2000; A Likely Story, 1995; The Lovely Treachery of Words, 1989) and Rudy Wiebe (Playing Dead, 2003; Sweeter than all the World, 2001) exploring the Prairie and the North. He shows that Kroetsch and Wiebe approach the issue of knowing about space through the presence and absence of animals, and not only of human beings. The final essay by Albert Braz is concerned with how Canada’s historical memory deals with slavery through a reading of Lorena Gale’s 1998 play, Angélique. Kratz points out that Angélique does not only aim to reinsert people of African descent into Canadian history, but also intends to problematize Canadian history by debunking the myth that Canada was a safe haven at the end of the Underground Railroad. The play and the essay thus challenge one of Canada’s most popular myths, drawing attention to gaps and silences in dominant discourse.

6Most chapters, therefore, invite us to consider fractures in national history and memory. However, although the volume is neatly divided into four sections, the overarching construction of the volume is rather unclear, in particular regarding the choice of authors and regions/spaces. The essays are uneven in length and depth. While several essays (Van der Marel’s, Korkka’s, Wunker’s, Lamontagne’s, and Braz’s) convincingly articulate the interplay between memory and space, not all the essays in the volume manage to do so.

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Bibliographical reference

Corinne Bigot, “Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert and Daniel Laforest, eds. Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienneCommonwealth Essays and Studies, 41.1 | 2018, 151-152.

Electronic reference

Corinne Bigot, “Benjamin Authers, Maïté Snauwaert and Daniel Laforest, eds. Inhabiting Memory in Canadian Literature / Habiter la mémoire dans la littérature canadienneCommonwealth Essays and Studies [Online], 41.1 | 2018, Online since 05 November 2019, connection on 20 September 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Corinne Bigot

Corinne Bigot is a Senior Lecturer in Commonwealth Literature at University Toulouse 2 – Jean Jaurès, France. Her main research interests are Canadian literature and diasporic fiction and life writing by women. Many of her publications (books, edited volumes and essays) are devoted to Alice Munro’s work, including a guest-edited issue of Commonwealth Essays and Studies 37.2 (2015). Recently, she co-edited Women’s Life Writing and the Practice of Reading (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), and a special issue of Wagadu 19 (2018) on Jamaica Kincaid’s work. She belongs to a new international network of academics from France, the UK and Australia working on diasporic memory.

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