Bharati Mukherjee’s new novel represents not only a new departure but also the latest instalment in a substantial and satisfying body of work.
Dreaming of the Suburb: Martine Delvaux on Bitter Rose, by Ceri Morgan -- Part II
CM: Bitter Rose seems to me to be a reworking of Taxidermy, a novel you originally wrote in English several years ago, and which I was fortunate enough to read in draft form. Can you say something about how you made the transformation from English to French and what happened in the process?
MD: When I wrote Bitter Rose, I didn’t realise it was a kind of reprise of Taxidermy, a fictionalized version of my childhood. The same scene is at the centre of both version—a scene of slaughter that haunts the whole book. There is something similar in the structure of the two novels, although Bitter Rose is less of a novel than the original version was, and more of a memoir. It is close to what the reality was. I didn’t make anything up. Unconsciously rewriting it, I brought things back to the essence of the story.
CM: Elsewhere, I’ve described Bitter Rose as an example of autofiction. Would you agree with this reading?
MD: I don’t really care about the label. I imagine it is autofiction, for lack of a better word. It is the desire to grasp something of reality while using the artifice of fiction. For the most part, I don’t invent anything. I have nothing to say except my own experience of the world.
CM: In the fine opening to C’est pour quand le bonheur? the narrative voice says something to the effect that it has no imagination. Could you draw a parallel with yourself, here?
MD: I am not interested in reading or writing about fictional worlds. However, to avoid the pitfalls of narcissism that can be seen as accompanying autofiction, I am interested in the relationship between the singular and the collective.
CM: One of the things I really like about Bitter Rose is its affectionate and non-condescending representation for the suburb. I think this is very ‘now’—especially in terms of anglophone Québec or Canadian culture, as in Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs, where there is a real sense of fondness and nostalgia. Could you say a little more about this affection?
DM: I don’t look down on or reject the suburbs—the village where I grew up, and that Bitter Rose portrays, being a sort of suburb of Ottawa. I think my generation in particular is made of suburban life, manufactured homes and objects, the repetition of things. We all seem to share memories, a similar experience of time and space, as if all these families living in twin-homes were the same. I am fascinated by that, and endeared by it. I like these similarities. I am not disappointed by them.
CM: Even though your professed interests are elsewhere, notably in issues around gender, you are really good at writing about place…
MD: I suppose it’s true—I always write about place. Ottawa, the village, New York, Rome… I even started writing about LA before ever going there. I enjoy portraying places, but most importantly, I like trying to translate the feeling of place. The love of Rome, in Les Cascadeurs, the uncanniness of the village in Bitter Rose.
I often feel like I have no roots—I moved around quite a bit before I settled down in Montreal. But I am not from here, and I arrived here as a sort of immigrant. I chose it as my home, in some sense.
I think maybe I write about place because I don’t know where I really come from. My origins are blurred, my biological father (who was apparently Dutch) disappeared before I was born, something that I write about in my next novel and in the Moebius volume on Quebec City (October 2013). This absence, in my life, is more about lacking a story than missing a real human being. And writing about place may have to do with putting a story on silence, a place on absence.
Click here for Part I of this interview.
© 2015, Ceri Morgan and Martine Delvaux
Ceri Morgan's Ph.D. (University of Southampton, 2000), "No Place Like Home" is on representations of space, place and identity in the post Quiet Revolution Québécois novel. She was a stagiaire de recherche at l'Université du Québec à Montréal during the spring and summer of 1997 and Visiting Eakin Fellow at McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Montreal, in autumn 2007. In summer 2014, she took up a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal. She teaches at Keele University and is co-editor of British Journal of Canadian Studies.