In memoriam, Gaétan Soucy, October 21, 1958 – July 9, 2013 July 11 2013

In memoriam, Gaétan Soucy, October 21, 1958 – July 9, 2013“The fundamental disaster that fashions the reality of the world is the inevitable death of those we love.”
—Gaétan Soucy, the very first words of his great novel, Atonement.

You were right all those years ago, Gaétan my friend, it’s just that we didn’t want it to be true. We wanted you to live forever, or at least to a hearty old age, nourishing us with your prose as it became more and more limpid, compact, perfect.

What a legacy! Four terrible, wonderful, novels, each one utterly unique. A strange piece of theatre, Catoblépas was in a sense a lengthy footnote to La Petite Fille qui aimait trop les allumettes. It was tough, it made great demands on a reader or an audience. And while it was brought to the stage by the great director Denis Marleau, it did not enjoy the success of the novels. In the end, I think that we were quite simply not ready for it, neither emotionally nor aesthetically. The novels though entered more easily into our hearts and minds. Terrible they were, evoking sometimes the horrific, the appalling, the repulsive, the vile. Certain readers, certain critics even, actually claimed to be shocked that such works could even be published. They were, of course, a minority but worthy of mention.

My own association with Gaétan Soucy began when his French publisher, Pascal Asathiany, pointed a copy of l’Acquittement in my direction, saying, “Here’s one for you!” He was right.

I read the novel on a plane and I was dazzled. There was nothing I could do then but go back to the beginning and read it a second time. It has some of Soucy’s pet themes, themes that will appear elsewhere in his work. The setting is somewhere in Quebec, there is a paralyzing snowstorm, we witness a kind of reunion with a woman from the past and at the end, a stunning revelation. It was followed by a novel I was sure was untranslatable, for at its core there is another stunning revelation, one that depended on the gender of a couple of words. The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches was a tremendous success, critically and commercially, and in many languages. Along the way, I had discovered that it actually was translatable.

There followed Vaudeville (Music-Hall in French), the story of a singing frog and a crew of “demolishers” putting up new buildings in the New York City of the 20th century. In the end it is horrific, appalling, yes, even repulsive at times, but it is brilliant, a stunning achievement. Beckett would have admired it.

Gaétan Soucy has not left a school, a coterie of young writers. His philosophy students may well read his novels though and who knows what influence they might have on their own work. He has left a beloved daughter, his parents and siblings, some utterly loyal friends and thousands and thousands of readers who are as sad as I am that there will be no more books.


Sheila Fischman is an award-winning translator who translated three of Gaétan Soucy’s great novels and a tale, The Anguish of the Heron published by and available from Aliquando Press.


Québécois novelist Gaétan Soucy died on Tuesday of a heart attack at age 54. Everyone at Anansi is saddened by the loss.