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Fiction Literary

Mai at the Predators' Ball

by (author) Marie-Claire Blais

translated by Nigel Spencer

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Jun 2012
Literary, Visionary & Metaphysical
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2012
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    Publish Date
    Jun 2012
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Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award: Translation. Shortlisted for the Cole Foundation Prize for Translation.

Literary legend and four-time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award Marie-Claire Blais delivers the latest installment in her ongoing portrait of life in contemporary North America.

In this swirling fresco, we meet unforgettable characters, some familiar from previous works, some new. This time, Blais lets us into the consciousness of fifteen-year-old Mai, an unusually perceptive young woman whose uncensored observations on femininity and youth, freedom and constraint belie her age. And, in the Porte du Baiser Saloon, we meet a group of boys who adorn themselves in colourful dresses and wigs before they take to the stage to sing and dance every evening after darkness falls. They open their arms to those who are excluded -- both men and women, triumphant and threatened, both free and bound.

With this astonishing new novel, Blais gives us a remarkable chronicle of our modern age teeming with characters who seem to represent the whole of humanity. She invites us to share the drama of perfect joy, the tragedy of happiness, and she gives us her best work yet.

About the authors

Born in 1939 in Québec, Marie-Claire Blais continues to dominate the literary landscape. Having published her first novel at the age of twenty, she has gone on to publish twenty novels to date in France and Quebec—all of which have been translated into English—as well as five plays and several collections of poetry. All of her writings have met with international acclaim.Talon has published her American Notebooks, a fascinating autobiographical account of the intellectual flowering of a great writer.Winner of the Prix Médicis, the Prix Belgo-Canadien, the Prix France-Québec, and many others, Blais continues to devote herself to work that is proud and exacting. Most recently, she has been invited, as one of the very few foreigners allowed, to join Belgium’s Academy of French Language and Literature.

Marie-Claire Blais' profile page

Nigel Spencer's work includes acting, directing, teaching, educational research and training, journalism, subtitling and co-scripting films, as well as script-doctoring.

He taught the first bilingual graduate course on Comparative Canadian Dramaturgy (l'Université de Sherbrooke), and a performance-based course on Shakespeare at the State University of New York (Plattsburgh).

He has published six books of translated work by Marie-Claire Blais, including Thunder and Light, Augustino and the Choir of Destruction, and Mai at the Predators' Ball, which earned him three Governor General's Literary Awards for Translation.

His theatre translations include three plays by Evelyne de la Chenelière, one of which, September, will be produced by Canadian Stage in Toronto in 2020.

Nigel Spencer's profile page


  • Short-listed, Cole Foundation Prize for Translation
  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Award: Translation

Editorial Reviews

Spencer admirably captures what one might call the 'breath' of Blais’ prose, although this is a somewhat misleading term, since, unlike the oral style of Joyce’s paradigmatic Finnegans Wake, Blais’ narration, exploiting the French tradition of the segmented sentence, is very much a written form. This difference in language and literary tradition presents the translator with a serious challenge, which Spencer has met with wonderful skill.

Cole Foundation Prize for Translation

... [a]hallucinatory and poetic story, ripe for underlining and rereading ... Mai at the Predator’s Ball will reward you.

Globe and Mail

User Reviews

Third GG

The Verdict:
What Nigel Spencer has achieved with the translation of Marie Claire Blais's Mai au bal des prédateurs is nothing short of brilliance. He has met the formidable challenge of conveying in English the complexity and richness of this narrative with a mastery that is stunning in its range of colour and tone.

I found myself deeply engrossed in her hallucinatory and poetic story, ripe for underlining and rereading. Like any hallucinogen, once you give yourself over to it, you can welcome in the mind-expanding experience...Mai at the Predator's Ball will reward you.
--Zoe Whittall--- GLOBE AND MAIL

I was really happy that Nigel Spencer won for his translation of Marie-Claire Blais's book Mai at the Predator's Ball. Blais continues to do amazing, innovative and hard-to-categorize work though she's in her mid 70s at this point. I had forgotten that he'd translated this work. He's won twice before for translating Marie-Claire Blais. For anyone who's not read Blais or who wants to start with an excellent Quebecois francophone writer, she's where it's at.
--Azure Scratchings: Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.

Nigel Spencer of Montreal won his third Governor General's Award for Translation. Each time Spencer won it was for interpreting a work by Quebec author Marie-Claire Blais and this year it was for her Mai at the Predator's Ball. Spencer agreed that translators are playing a greater and greater role as books cross linguistic borders: "Certainly in Canada more and more, and of course in Europe with the European Community," Spencer said, noting that he found it ironic that the Canada Council doesn't have an exact counterpart anywhere else, as Europe experiences a growing mix of amateurs and professionals thrashing around translating not just books but movies and TV.
--The Canadian Press: NOV. 13, 2012.

(Chantale on GOODREADS)
This book explores sexuality and femininity, it reveals an alluring club nightlife juxtaposed with life in the suburbs. A group of drag queens at an evening club perform for both men and women. Young innocent girls promise their fathers to be innocent forever but don't stick to this moral code and no one is entirely honest with each other. The book starts off with a death from drug overdose or from illness and a memorial service is performed.
This is experimental literature which challenges our assumptions of what a book should be...The writing is stream of conscious and the characters change from comma to comma and the story jumps from present to past to inner dialogue between each comma as well. It is easy enough to follow once you get into it and get a feel for the writing style...the fast-paced sentences capture your imagination, challenge your mind and make you marvel at how Blais is able to connect so many stories so seamlessly.

Third Governor general's Award for Translation

What Nigel Spencer has achieved with the translation of Marie Claire Blais’s Mai au bal des prédateurs is nothing short of brilliance. He has met the formidable challenge of conveying in English the complexity and richness of this narrative with a mastery that is stunning in its range of colour and tone.
=====================================================BREATHLESS: Mai at the Predators’ Ball--Marie-Claire Blais

Translated by Nigel Spencer

Mai at the Predators’ Ball begins with Dieudonné saying to Petites Cendres “love, my friend, love before every last bell has tolled for you,” and the book is about love, but it’s also about death, many kinds of death, the death that comes to the rejected, the forlorn, the poor, and the death that comes from old age, and yet even then do we not feel rejected, forlorn, well it depends on the life we have lived, it’s important to have a family, whether you are Mère, a grandmother, or a mother, the story is full of mothers, just like life, and they are better or worse mothers, just like life, and better or worse families, the one you choose like Yinn’s “universal family” or the one you were born with, wherever you find love that is your family, even with all its flaws, so many of the scenes in the book take place at the Porte du Baiser Saloon, a magical, very Montreal kind of club where talented artists create beautiful shows, Yinn the “Thai prince,” sewing 350 costumes a year for the singers and dancers who transform themselves from young men on the margins, thrown or chased from so many countries, finding refuge with darling Yinn and his husband Jason, under the disapproving yet loving gaze of Yinn’s mother, dear Yinn she loves them all, and this is a great pleasure for the reader, the genuine fluidity of gender, but only for men, the girls and women in this book are restrained, hemmed in, or suffer if they let themselves claim freedom, that’s the Predators’ Ball, it’s all the fathers who watch jealously as their daughters grow into their power, the fathers and the favourite sons and women who help them, and Mai with her inline skates, saving herself from the worst impulses of the damaged people around her, the world intrudes, this world is full of refugees, Africans and Haitians washing up on foreign shores, young men seeking refuge from the scars of war, children consider taking refuge in death from the pain of unhappy childhood, and then there is death by illness, and the mourning of those left behind, we see it all, this book has an exceptional range of characters, from Mai who is so young and yet so sophisticated about the kinds of power men wield over women, to Mère entering the fog of death at the end of a long life, and many people of many ages in between, that is its strength and also a weakness, it’s hard to keep them all straight, that and the striking lack of periods, there are a few (typos?), but most of the 240 pages are a single long sentence, it’s a tour de force, a demonstration of the consummate skill of the author, and it forces the reader to see all the different worlds of the many characters as connected, literally part of one long sentence, and eventually we see the worlds are connected by the characters too, as in life, but it’s hard to keep reading without the relief of the end of a sentence here or there, without paragraphs to let your eyes and mind take a break, there’s no natural moment where the text tells you, think about me, I have given you so much to digest, let it all work its way into your bloodstream, before you bite off more, no, it keeps coming at you as in life, all the death, all the struggle, all the love.
--Elise Moser—Montreal Review of Books

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