Trans: Sheila Fischman
Archipelago, 2011, pg 174
I’m not a cat lover. Other people’s cats are fine, but I have no need for them. And yet for some reason I keep reading Jacques Poulin novels which always seem to have a cat as some central organizing theme, if not a character. In Translation Is A Love Affair, a cat is the bridge between an author and a woman . And in Mister Blue there is something similar, although in this case, the cat is less a bridge and more symbolic of writers in general, independent spirits that don’t need to be with people all the time. In his writings cats have a weight and a currency that makes the mysterious, which along with his sparse and occasionally meditative writing style, fills his work with a tranquility and reflection that belies their simple stories.
The story of Mister Blue is fairly simple. A writer living outside of Quebec City on the Saint Laurence river finds a partially read copy of the Tales on a 1001 Nights in a cave. The mysterious reader, Marika, comes and goes on her sail boat, passing through the area unnoticed. The author passes her notes, sends his brother to meet her, and even puts a mail box on the beach, all to get the opportunity to meet her. For him, she is a mysterious reader, someone who becomes enveloped in story and yet is never seen, as unreal as story itself.
Marika is a former resident of a collective of women who live with a matronly woman helps shepard troubled women through troubled times. One such woman is La Petite a young woman not even in her twenties who begins to visit the writer. She is nosy taking pleasure in looking through his things, digging into his past, a past he wants to hide for its pain. She, too, is a mystery. Something has damaged her and the writer does not probe deeply into the past. Instead, his past becomes their shared connection as she slowly pulls out of him his divorce, his interest in living in partial isolation out side of Quebec City. It is a truly Poulinesque relationship because it is one of two damaged people who create a friendship that is sparse and quiet, filled with silences and disappearances but ultimately comes to a peaceful understanding that friendship is quiet and patient respect for one another.
La Petite was curious about everything. She turned the pages of the old album unbelievably slowly; we were advancing at the rate of two or three pages an hour, because she would put her finger on every picture and ask all kinds of questions. We were comfortably ensconced in the wicker love seat with the floral cushions at our backs, our feet on the window ledge. Her legs were stretched out, mine slightly folded: that was a minor difference. There were more important ones, such as the fact that she was sixteen or seventeen years old and I was over forty, but when my work had gone well, i was capable of forgetting certain painful aspects of reality.
The above is a typical passage from Poulin and in it there is a tranquility and innocence in it. I’ve only read two of his books, but ever time I’ve come across these encounters with between older men and younger women I think there is a subtle sexuality, a longing, but it never reveals itself. Instead, it is more of a paternal element that pervades his characters. A paternality, though, that has very little rules.
Ultimately, Mister Blue leaves many mysteries open. What is remains is Poulin’s focus: the need to connect. Without connection the mystery that is other people remains unexplored. In this Poulin has a singular approach to this that make his books disarmingly simple and more complex than they seem.