Montreal Book Fair | The novel of the unfathomable by Makenzy Orcel

This 45e edition of the Salon du livre de Montréal marks the long-awaited return of foreign authors to the city. A few days before his arrival, we joined the writer Makenzy Orcel in Paris to talk to him about his new novel, A human sumwho found himself this fall among the four finalists for the Goncourt prize.


For three years, Makenzy Orcel wrote relentlessly, day and night, this story that still haunts him. A human sum is a haunting novel, whose 600 pages seem to have been written in one breath and which required hard work on the language to give voice to a dead woman who tells her life story. A woman who seems born under an unlucky star and who, each time she tries to get up, falls again, even lower.

“I’m very interested in astronomy, stars and gravitational fields,” says Makenzy Orcel. As it dies, the star collapses on itself and forms a black hole. And this black hole, for me, is like death because we don’t know how to talk about it. Scientists don’t know what happens in a black hole, just as we living people don’t know what happens in death. »

Death is precisely the common thread of this story which crosses the years, from the terrible childhood of this woman in a family which was the first scene of her wounds until her arrival in Paris, at the dawn of the adulthood, where she eventually seeks death.

Everyone tries to put words or an image on this beyond, on this place that is beyond us. For Christians, after death is paradise. For the vaudouisants, it does not exist; life is now, there, the gods are in the trees, everywhere around us.

Makenzy Orcel

Death, Makenzy Orcel says he saw it himself very early in his life, in Haiti, in all its forms. “When we say death, everyone is afraid, but there are certain deaths that are harder than physical death. Social death, love death, family death, death of thought, death of a country… Someone who dies slowly every day, who toils, who suffers, who cries, who hopes, who despairs, this death is even harder, and it is precisely this that interests me. »

A trilogy of death

A human sum is in fact the second part of a cycle that began with animal shadow, in 2016, and which will form a triangle between Haiti, France and the United States – “the very basis” of his imagination, explains Makenzy Orcel. An ambitious project which, across three countries, three cultures, three histories, three memories and three generations of women, seeks to explore the unfathomable.

It is a trilogy of death based on these three questions that are both very simple and very complex: who am I? What use should I make of my presence in the world? And what future awaits me?

Makenzy Orcel

Whether animal shadow retraces the life of a “very old Haitian woman who goes up the river of her life since death”, he notes, the third part to come will take up the voice of an African-American teenager whose personal story meets great history, whileA human sum speaks from beyond the grave of a young white, French woman, and those who crossed her path in Paris. “I am Haitian, I have been living in France for ten years and I wanted to tell about this France that we do not necessarily know, that we do not see, that we are not shown”, says- he.

Among the quantity of filthy characters who parade in the life of the narrator, there is however one who stands out, this young Malian whose meeting is of capital importance in the eyes of the writer. “Their two stories are similar even though they are from two different countries, from two different cultures and from two different families,” he underlines. Paradoxically, uprooted people who are just as foreign in this city where they can neither cling on nor find their place.

“The initial idea, somewhere, was that: to show that misery, poverty or death is not a Haitian specificity; it is everywhere, it takes other forms. And that all life could in fact be summed up – hence the intent behind the title.

“I think we’re all a bit like that,” summarizes Makenzy Orcel. A sum of people… A sum of stories, a sum of encounters, a sum of fears, a sum of anxieties. »

Makenzy Orcel will be in autograph sessions from Thursday to Sunday, in addition to giving a great interview Thursday noon. He will also be at Desalts on Sunday live from Studio Radio-Canada at the Salon, Sunday morning.

A human sum

A human sum

Shorelines

624 pages

Other foreign writers at the Salon

Giuliano DaEmpoli

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PHOTO FRANCESCA MANTOVANI, PROVIDED BY GALLIMARD

The Italian-Swiss writer and essayist will present his novel at the Salon The Kremlin Mage, who won the Grand Prix du roman from the Académie française this fall in addition to being one of the four finalists for the Goncourt prize. He will give a great interview to Pénélope McQuade on Friday, followed by signing sessions on Saturday and Sunday.

Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam

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PHOTO BERTRAND GUAY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

The French writer won the Prix Médicis for the French novel in early November for her brand new title, the thirteenth hour. In addition to her signing sessions, she will participate (Sunday) in the round table The community as the nerve centerwith Louis-Karl Picard-Sioui and Monique Proulx.

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt

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PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The playwright and novelist has just released the third volume of his trilogy The passage of time, dark suna saga on the history of humanity which he will discuss with Ariane Gélinas, Christian Quesnel and Benoît Côté around the round table And if history had not happened like that. Signings from Thursday.

David Mitchell

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PHOTO EOIN O’CONAILL, THE NEW YORK TIMES ARCHIVES

The British writer, who was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize for Cloud mappingwill meet on Saturday with Antoine Tanguay, publisher of the Quebec Alto publishing house, which publishes Utopia Avenuehis new novel on the world of psychedelic rock in 1960s London. Signings on Friday and Saturday.

Bernard Weber

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PHOTO ANDRÉ PICHETTE, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

The author of Ants will hold book signings from Thursday to Sunday for his new novel, The diagonal of the queens. He will also take part, on Saturday, in the Unusual book club: much more than alienswith Michel Jean and Farah Alibay, to discuss key readings in science fiction.

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Montreal Book Fair | The novel of the unfathomable by Makenzy Orcel