Arsenault’s Rabelaisian fantasy is a gothic tale of the macabre and the bizarre, of black magicians and alchemists, and of the life and times of Zora Marjanna Lavanko, the daughter of a brutish tripe-dresser who dies for love. This surreal novel is set in the murky fictional domain of the Fredavian Forest, in the very real province of Karelia, then a part of the Grand Duchy of Finland, in the closing years of the nineteenth century.
Many years of work brought forth this finely rendered fantasy. While some readers might be put off by the cruelty, violence, and mayhem of text, those who persist will be rewarded with black humour and the fine display of a full range of human emotion. Rabelaisan certainly, but Zora is also inspired by the legends of the ancient Finns as well as other epic literary fantasies.
The English reader will feel the text, deftly translated by Fred A. Reed and David Homel, carries overtones of Mervyn Peake. Despite this ornate style, the narrative has surprising pace, perhaps because the reader is busy trying to keep his or her jaw from hanging open.
The original French novel won the 2013 Robert-Cliche Prize, awarded to an author for a first novel (and not a first work).
Philippe Arseneault is a Quebec writer of unparalleled erudition and humour. A lawyer by training, he has branched out into journalism and now works as a copyeditor at La Presse. In February 2017, he released his second novel, Ma soeur chasseresse (My Sister Huntress), whose provocative humour and dazzling erudition have already won it accolades . This is a writer to watch.
International journalist and award-winning literary translator Fred A. Reed is also a respected specialist on politics and religion in the Middle East. A three-time winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for translation, plus a nomination in 2009 for his translation of Thierry Hentsch’s Le temps aboli, Empire of Desire, Reed has translated works by many of Quebec’s leading authors, several in collaboration with novelist David Homel, as well as by Nikos Kazantzakis and other modern Greek writers.
Award-winning author and literary translator David Homel also works as a journalist, editor, and screenwriter. He was born in Chicago in 1952 but left at the end of the tumultuous 1960s and continued his education in Europe and Toronto before settling in Montreal 1980. He worked at a variety of industrial jobs before beginning to write fiction in the mid-1980s. His eleven novels to date have been translated into several languages and published around the world.
Praise for the French novel
"This book is a masterpiece, an immense pleasure in reading, and the highly worked, mastered work of a real writer. One enters in order not to leave, one takes delight of the gluttony, the violence, and the humour that mark each page".
—Colette Lens, jury member, Robert-Cliche Prize
"Welcome to the far reaches of 19th century Finland. Welcome to “a forest peopled with strange and very ugly creatures known as fredouilles.” Welcome to the Inn of the Farting Bear, where the scum of the earth and the dregs of society like to meet up for prostitution, under-the-table abortions, and widespread wickedness. But you are not welcome. This is not a welcoming place. The impressively named innkeeper Seppo Petteri Lavanko has not rolled out the welcome mat. Beware. Be careful. Run!" —Peter McCambridge, Quebec Reads