A Matter of Gravity is about the forces that draw people together and give life meaning. Hermann, an embalmer and a doctor’s son, devotes himself to the dead because, unlike his father, he cannot cure the living. Hu, an ailing concert pianist, dwells in memories of past glory. Hermann is a devoted neighbour to the residents of his apartment building, a population of “quiet old things,” elderly ladies who have seen better days. Hu is facing an uncertain future and must make his peace with the past.
Hermann feels he is eternally separated from the world by a “permanent cushion of air” that keeps him hovering above humanity. Hu is bound to a nightmarish reality, contending with emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
A mysterious manuscript, possibly written by one of Hermann’s centenarian neighbours, connects one man with the other, and an afternoon at the park eventually leads the two of them back to Hu’s piano. This marks the beginning of an extraordinary relationship that will change both men’s lives.
A Matter of Gravity is a sensitive, delicate, and humorous novel that unfolds in liminal spaces: between life and death, youth and age, earth and sky. The transformative meeting between Hermann and Hu brings out the question that paralyzes each man, the question all of us must answer for ourselves: Faced with death, how do we embrace life in all its contradictions, its dissatisfactions, its messiness? In the encounter of two engaging individuals, Hélène Vachon provides a possible answer, one that will leave readers smiling and perhaps change their lives as well.
After studying French literature in Quebec and France, Hélène Vachon began working for the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications. Since 1995, she has published two novels, more than twenty works of children’s literature, and a number of translations. Her books, most notably the Somerset series, have been nominated for many prizes. Vachon won both the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Mr. Christie’s Book Award in 2002 for L’oiseau de passage. She lives near Quebec City.
Finalist, Prix France-Québec, 2011
“You take leave of this book with renewed joy in your heart.” — Jean Fugère
“A gem of a novel that is both grave and cheerful. We sense Boris Vian’s influence in the rollicking way the author deals with disease and tragedy, but the text carves its own path through constant innovation. [A Matter of Gravity] may well lead us to death’s door, but its main impact is to stir the blood in our veins.” — Voir
“A compelling book by Hélène Vachon … She combines with unusual skill dark humour and humanism in this gentle and sensitive tale … A meditation on disease, death and old age–the building where Hermann lives is populated by very old people, more or less likeable, though each is more eccentric than the other—[A Matter of Gravity] tackles these difficult issues with surprising grace.”