I wrote last Monday about the suicide of Quebec novelist Nelly Arcan on Sept. 24. The news on Wednesday was that her French publisher had plans for her - and her computer. Bertrand Visage, literary director of Éditions du Seuil in Paris, announced he was planning to publish her final book in September 2010.
Paradis, clef en main, the novel she handed in three days before her death, is due out early November. The 2010 book, of which Arcan had written just 40 pages, is still on her computer.
"The book will contain 40 pages of her last novel and other unpublished and published work." Visage himself will contribute a long preface in which he will write about "the birth of Nelly Arcan" and about how he discovered her when she sent him the manuscript of her first novel, Putain, which went on to sell 80,000 copies in Quebec and in France.
According to Visage, he and Nelly were talking about the new novel days before she died, about when she would hand it in, when she would finish it. He asked her if she had received the contract, and they discussed the terms. "It includes all her usual themes: the male gaze on the female body, the TV trap, the tyranny of image." The title of the final book, still a closely guarded secret, is the title she had thought of for a previous book, A Ciel ouvert; but didn't use because it was "too tragic."
Where things got really sticky is when he added that the book would include as yet unknown texts. "Nelly wrote on her computer, never with pen and paper. All the most recent material is on the hard disk of her computer, and no one has yet seen that because we haven't found the access code. We'll figure that out. If the texts we find are of literary interest, I'm ready to publish them, but I won't do anything without her family's permission. We've spoken several times since her death. I believe they have complete confidence in me. I'm here to serve her oeuvre, make sure she continues to exist. I think her family will help me."
This story, reported on Thursday in Le Journal de Montreal and in La Presse, prompted protests and debate from some Quebec publishers and writers over the morality of scrambling around in her computer, not to mention indecent haste. Visage quickly backtracked. "Today," he told La Presse on Friday, "there is no publication date. Publication will be up to the family."
He has no intention now, he says, of getting someone to find the access code to Arcan's computer. "Nelly Arcan's personal belongings, and especially her computer, belong to her family. No one knows the code, not even her partner."