I had the chance to hear Basil read at the Bar Fly this week and really loved his presence on stage. His book, MountRoyal, is stirring up a lot of attention. He’s definitely an author to watch out for in the next year.
Montreal, late eighties, and Johnny is hooked on junk.
In the “Open city”, he struggles to feed his habit alongside a cast of characters which act a bit like a fucked up Greek chorus, and all is pretty tolerable until Tony, their main pusher gets “relieved of his duties” for fronting too many times and coming up short, and good ol’ Johnny is handed a pager by The Man and steps into Tony’s shoes.
Thus begins a downward spiral for our hero, as he runs from whore, to girlfriend, to potential lover, to mama’s boys, to paranoid conspiracy theorist transsexual, to dominatrix, to pretty boy gigolos, trying to keep everybody satisfied and high, and accomplishing this marvelous feet while keeping his own habit on the level.
These adventures of the damned take place in the claustrophobic neighborhood around the Main, in spots like La Cabane, The Bar Fly, The Bifteck, les Foufs, and around old Griffintown and the Milton district. For a Montrealer who still hangs around some of these places, it was simply fantastic to read about these iconic spots in all of their eighties’ glory.
The writing is reminiscent of Henry Miller and has all of Burroughs wonderful wit and darkness, but the cool thing about Papademos’ narrator, is that he isn’t a writer or an artist, and so, there isn’t a sense of an outsider looking into the peephole. We are in the room with these people and someone is looking at us. Not the other way around.
Adding to this, is the tone of the novel, which begins with a sort of frenzied despair, and slowly releases into a more melancholic, almost contemplative mood.
The novel ends with the Montreal Massacre, and I loved the way nothing but a few sentences were enough to give me chills.
Now, what about the MountRoyal in all this?
The Mountain is a character is this book. It acts as a temptress, a mother, a sister-in-arms, a vixen, a teacher, and for some, it is the Grim Reaper, come to claim her dues.
The language is sharp, the prose is at times richly poetic, the insights are great and right-on, and there is of course, just enough controversy and sex to quickened the blood.
It depicts a time when Montreal was indeed, an open city, when there was a sense of freedom here…
It really is a snapshot of a time and place worth remembering and this novel should and will take its place in the ranks of those important novels, alongside those books which chronicle the underbelly of cities.
Those books that show us the stained panties under the million dollar dress.