My favourite Montreal book...

Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain

By Tess Fragoulis

A review of Prisoner In A Red-Rose Chain by Jeffrey Moore

Published on January 1, 2006

Prisoner In A Red-Rose Chain
Jeffrey Moore

It’s always been a complaint of mine that Montreal, a city I’ve had a long-term love affair with, has never adequately jumped out of the pages of the novels and short stories I have read in a way that I recognize. The problem, as I see it, is that my Montreal is not simply a place of beloved landmarks, political strife, language issues and cold-though of course those things exist. My Montreal is a place of flirtation between strangers, short-lived and/or ill-advised love affairs, and the chemistry that arises from both. I’ll admit that it helps to know the streets the literary characters navigate, but it is their amorous preoccupations while out and about in the city that make me feel at home.

Jeffrey Moore’s Prisoner in a Red-Rose Chain gave me that homecoming experience for the first time. Jeremy, the main character, is besotted with the infuriating Milena, who he chases around the Main but never truly catches. His obsession with her takes over his life, his relationships with friends, his neighbour (who illustrates there are fewer than six degrees of separation between Montrealers, as he also knows Milena), and other women. The one thing you can count on in Montreal is that there is always someone else to fall in love with, if you let yourself. Poor Jeremy can’t, of course, because he is on a pre-ordained quest which only Milena’s surrender can fulfill.

Now I know that there are those of you who are thinking that this love story could have taken place anywhere: London, New York, or (God forbid) Toronto. But I must insist that there is something uniquely Montrealesque about the affair, about Jeremy’s social habits and way of life that allow him to put so much energy into his quest, within a society that sees the quest itself, whether satisfied or not, as a valid one. We can empathize with Jeremy because we are Montrealers and have been similarly seduced by the city and its impossibly sultry inhabitants.

I already lived in Jeffrey Moore’s Montreal before I read his novel. And I believe part of his achievement is in translating the city’s (perhaps) frivolous magic into prose that allows others to experience the place I already know so well, to fall unanswerably in love with us if only from a distance. mRb

Tess Fragoulis is a Montreal writer whose novel, Ariadne's Dream, was shortlisted for the Dublin IMPAC Award.

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