By Linda Leith
[Please note: Vive la différence! Part I appeared yesterday.]/p>
How to explain the adulation for Paul Auster in French, which so far, at least, eludes him in English?
It helps that Auster himself speaks French fluently and that he has translated work from French into English, but there is a lot more to it than that, for he seems to have a French sensibility. Being a "French" writer who happens to write in English may be a mixed blessing when it comes to sales of his books in the United States and elsewhere in the English-speaking world, but it's all good news in Montreal, as it is in European centres.
When we awarded Auster the Blue Metropolis International Grand Prix a few years ago, he was a choice far more popular among francophone audiences, who read him in translation, than it was among anglophones, who scarcely knew his work. Never have I seen the writer-as-rock-star as I did with the largely French-speaking throng waiting in line patiently to see Auster at Blue Met. Until, that is, Leonard Cohen (another legendary recluse) came home for a series of sold-out concerts at Place des Arts last summer. Among the writers who travel well across linguistic divides -- and who walk on water -- Leonard Cohen is king.
So yes, things are different here in Quebec, and vive la différence. Not only in French, either, for things are different for those of us who speak English here, as well, and this is how the différence has most of its effect on English Canada. We take to Rawi Hage more than English Canada does; sure, his novels ( De Niro's Game, Cockroach) get short-listed for English-Canadian prizes (the Giller, the GG, etc.), but they win prizes in Quebec, both in French (Prix des libraires du Québec) and in English (three Quebec Writers' Federation prizes to date), not to mention Dublin, where Hage tucked the Dublin IMPAC Prize into his hip pocket last summer and went whistling into the night.
And then there's the extraordinary case of Nancy Huston. I could go on.