The Next Chapter

Catherine Leroux recommends two books in translation by Quebec writers

The Montreal author talks about The Dishwasher by Stéphane Larue and The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier.
Catherine LeRoux is a novelist from Quebec. (Julie Artacho, Biblioasis, Coach House Books)

Catherine Leroux is a writer, translator and journalist based in Montreal. She was shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize for her novel The Party Wall, which is an English translation of her French-language linked short story collection Le mur mitoyen. 

As a fan of books in translation, particularly by Francophone authors, Leroux spoke to Shelagh Rogers about two Francophone books that should be on everyone's radar.

The Dishwasher by Stéphane Larue, translated by Pablo Strauss

Stéphane Larue is the writer of The Dishwasher, a novel based upon his experiences as a dishwasher in a restaurant. (Le Quartanier/Justine Latour, Biblioasis)

"That book came out in Quebec a few years ago and it was a huge success. I resisted reading it for so long because I have worked in restaurants for a few years and obviously the dishwasher lives in that world. I was not eager to revisit some of the aspects of that work. I know Larue loves that world and still works in a bar, but I don't share that passion for restaurant work. 

I've never read such a vivid description of what it's like to be in a busy kitchen.- Catherine Leroux

"Boy was I wrong! When I read it, I loved it so much. It's a largely autobiographical book and the novel progresses over a few months. The book looks at the unglamourous world of the restaurant — the grueling shifts, the drunken late nights — along with the main character's issues with gambling.

"I've never read such a vivid description of what it's like to be in a busy kitchen. The book feels like the author put his heart and soul into it. It an honest, humble and loving project."

Stephane Larue had the least glamourous job at a restaurant: a dishwasher. But it gave him an inside look at the hard-living characters working in frenetic, stress-filled kitchens. He turned those experiences into a novel, The Dishwasher, that takes the reader into the demi-monde of restaurant kitchens. It became a sensation and a big award-winner in Quebec and has just been translated into English. 20:52

The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier, translated by Rhonda Mullins

The Island of Books is a novel by Quebec author Dominique Fortier. (Coach House, Frédérick Duchesne, CBC)

"The French version of this book won the French-language Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2016. It is set in the Middle Ages in Mont Saint-Michel, an island off the coast of France.

It's so packed with insights and meaning about spirituality, love and literature."​​​​​​- Catherine Leroux

"The present segments of the book are autobiographical. We meet the author as a new mother who is learning how to deal with this new identity and how to balance it with her writing life. It looks at the parallels between mothering and writing. The book is about books and goes back in time to a monastery's library in the 15th century. The main character is someone who is not religious but he's lost the woman that he loved. He finds refuge in this monastery.

"There's a mystical quality to this book. It's one of those books that you have to put down every so often because you just need to think about what you've read. It's so packed with insights and meaning about spirituality, love and literature."

Catherine Leroux's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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