Life, Death, and Foxes


A review of Testament by Vickie Gendreau

Published on November 4, 2016

Fennec foxes are the smallest of the canids and are characterized by disproportionately large ears, which amplify the sound of approaching prey. Fennecs weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds, a range into which most books, including Vickie Gendreau’s Testament, would fall. That Testament might weigh about as much as a miniature fox would have suited Gendreau because fennecs were, for her, both an objet d’amour and a kind of currency. Testament has now been translated into English by Aimee Wall, who has, in doing so, brought a raw and inventive world from one side of Saint-Laurent Boulevard to the other.

In the first part of the book, the protagonist, Vickie, has one hundred hungry fennec foxes in her car. A small boy dressed in black gives her another fox on a leash. A man working at the metro has fif teen more to give her out by the bike racks. Her friend Max dies because a bag meant to catch him when he jumps off a viaduct is already full of fennecs.

In the second part of the book, Vickie is dead. The brown envelopes she had prepared for her loved ones have been delivered, each containing a USB key, several hundred fennec foxes, and other items irreverently given – an inflatable doll, a flowered bikini. On the USBs, voice to Vickie, who Eye’s Wide Twat.doc, Fuck Meow Harder.doc, Jean Short Party.doc and so on. Throughout, Vickie writes of the man of her life and how she wasn’t the woman of his. We see her bawling in a bookstore; we see her planning extravagant seductions involving smoked eel.

Vickie Gendreau
Translated by Aimee Wall


While Testament may find readers everywhere, it will be of particular interest here in Anglophone Montreal, where word of Vickie Gendreau’s extraordinary life and death may have already been heard. Midway through 2012, at the age of twenty-three, Gendreau was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Less than a year later, she had succumbed to it, but not before writing two books that would make her the darling, the shooting star, the fennec fox of Quebec literature. That she’d worked as a nude dancer in Quebec and Ontario, been raped in Val-d’Or, and recounted this in works that blended fact and fiction, put her in conversation with Nelly Arcan and a broader autofiction family in Quebec and France. For those who read Testament in French, it was inseparable from the media storm that surrounded it. Life and book were one. For most English readers, this will not be the case.

English readers will encounter a translation that faithfully captures Gendreau’s slangy French, and they might note its parallels with works by Sheila Heti or Kathy Acker because of its defiance of a patriarchal literary world, of the so-called rules of self-representation, of what constitutes “women’s writing.” Testament blurs fact and fiction, defying not just how life should be portrayed, but death, too. Don’t be reverent. And don’t pretend that this isn’t a world where “A girl’s skin is being bruised by a man in a van / somewhere.”

Testament won’t be for everyone. In particular, it won’t be for the prudes or the judgers, but it might be for the man Gendreau loved, and it was certainly for her mother, to whom she confessed everything, and her brother, whom she sagely advised, “Don’t talk bullshit to seem interesting. Be yourself. Big or small. Without makeup. With morning breath. The soul has no need of Colgate.” Testament is for anyone bored of dictates that women’s writing must be lyrical, tender, or psychological. Wall’s translation lucidly captures the spiky agony of the early twenties – how everything seems to be life and death – which, for Gendreau, it was, because death was approaching, and she was listening for it. mRb

Jocelyn Parr is the author of Uncertain Weights and Measures, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Governor General’s Prize for English language Fiction, the Kobo Emerging Writing Prize, the 2019 Dublin Literary Award, and won the QWF Concordia University First Book Prize. She has a PhD in English literature and is co-founder of Reading to Decolonize. Her writing has appeared in Brick, Grain, Geist, the Montreal Review of Books, MOMUS, and internationally. She is based in Tiotiah:ke (montreal) and teaches history at Dawson College.



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