The panelists for CBC Radio One's "Canada Reads" jury opted to bridge the country's two solitudes yesterday, choosing Hubert Aquin's controversial Prochain Episode as the novel it wants Canadians to read this spring.
Actually, the five jurors had voted on the 1965 Aquin novel in late January when they came to Toronto to tape the "Canada Reads" programs, which were aired each weekday morning during Canada Book Week 2003 this week. The jury included Mag Ruffman, Justin Trudeau, Nancy Lee, Will Ferguson and Denise Bombardier, the last the Quebec broadcaster who made Prochain Episode her entry in "Canada Reads."
Yesterday, they were down to considering just two books for the winning slot, the Aquin and Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. In previous days, they had debated the merits of, and had voted off, Paul Hiebert's Sarah Binks, Yann Martel's Life of Pi and Helen Humphreys's The Lost Garden.
Justin Trudeau cast the deciding vote, going against his pick, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, to support Prochain Episode.
Trudeau still believes that, of the five books on the "Canada Reads" list, the Johnston novel will be the one that Canadians three or four generations from now will still be reading. However, he felt the Aquin was the most likely to generate widespread discussion and he didn't want Canadians to miss that opportunity.
McClelland and Stewart, the Toronto-based English-language publisher of Prochain Episode ( Next Episode), wasn't saying yesterday how many copies of the $7.95 translation it had printed or was putting into bookstores. The novel, translated by Sheila Fischman, will now have a gold "Winner" sticker on its cover.
Random House, the publisher of last year's "Canada Reads" winner, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, said this month it attributed sales of more than 80,000 of that title directly to the "Canada Reads" promotion. Some think it unlikely the Aquin will repeat this feat because, as Bombaradier has said, its non-naturalistic flow means "it's not an easy book to read. But then there are so many easy books to read."
Aquin, who committed suicide at 48 in 1977, wrote Prochain Episode, in part, out of his own experiences as an ardent, albeit conflicted Québécois nationalist. A former stock broker, filmmaker and Radio-Canada producer, he was arrested in mid-1964 for illegal possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen car.
Before his trial in 1965, at which he was acquitted, Aquin spent four months at a psychiatric institute. That milieu figures heavily in Prochain Episode, which recounts the attempt of an imprisoned Québécois to write a novel about a Quebec revolutionary, living in Switzerland, who's ordered to kill a banker and historian.
Awarded the 1969 Governor-General's Award for Literature for his second novel, Trou de Mémoire, Aquin declined the prize on political grounds.