My favourite Montreal book...

Around the Mountain: Scenes from Montreal Life
Published on January 1, 2006

Around The Mountain: Scenes From Montreal Life
Hugh Hood

It’s a toss-up as to which of these two books I’ve re-read most often over the past four decades. While there are other Montreal novels that are more layered and larger in scope (Cohen’s own Beautiful Losers and Richler’s magisterial Solomon Gursky was Here) and other Montreal story collections that are wittier and more psychologically astute (Mavis Gallant’s and Clark Blaise’s identically named Montreal Stories), The Favourite Game and Around the Mountain are perfectly cut gems that reflect and refract the life of this city in ways that are both dependably familiar and remarkably strange. “To be a writer is to use all the brains you’ve got” says Stephen Vizinczey in Truth and Lies in Literature and The Favourite Game is peculiarly brainy as it revels in the ability of a young man to live entirely in a middle world between sensory and intellectual realities, in the non-literal, non-rational realm of poetic imaginings. This is what makes The Favourite Game so poignant, hilarious and erotically charged. The Favourite Game captures both a boy and a city moving into a new and fiercely modern age with greater ambivalence and a more excoriating view of male sexuality than even Richler manages.

In Around the Mountain, the city that’s a potent but secondary character to Breavman in The Favourite Game is front and centre. As its twelve stories move through January to December and encircle Mount Royal what little plot they have arises less from the ways the human characters interact with one another than with the ways l’esprit montréalais becomes a présence d’esprit, a collective capacity for reconciling opposites by refusing to choose just for the sake of making a choice when the human heart can embrace so many possibilities.

Critic, memoirist and novelist T. F. Rigelhof's Montreal stories, Je t'aime, Cowboy, are available in English (Goose Lane) and French translation (Editions de la pleine lune).



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