Friday, September 25, 2009

Nelly Arcan (1973-3009)

Image from LeDevoir

So, I suspect I'm probably the only one who this matters to on this blog, but a fabulous young Quebecois writer named Nelly Arcan (born Isabelle Fortier) was found dead yesterday in her Montreal apartment.

Arcan gained international fame and was nominated for France's prestigious Prix Femina for her book Putain (translated into English as Whore), which was a frank exploration of her life as a sex-trade worker. She then followed this up with Folle (Crazy), a rather heartbreaking story of a dysfunctional relationship with a coke-head French journalist, and how her life and her relationship was complicated by her endless struggles with self-esteem. Set in the Plateau neighbourhood of Montreal, and using the narrative frame of a series of memories of conversations with her dead grandfather, the book explored themes of alienation, self-abuse, and the desire to be loved. (Note: My friend Amilie lent me this book, and it took me about six months to read--my first novel in French--but I thought it was one of the better books I've read in the last few years.)

I posted, a few years back, a quote from her on this blog about how auto-biography had worked for her in the past, but she was tired of the public self-sacrifice that it involved, and wanted to leave that behind.

Her third book, A Ciel Ouvert (In the Open Sky), did this, being more a pure work of fiction and less autobiographical than her first two, while her fourth book, Paradis Clef en Main (Heaven's Gatekeeper-- my bad translation), is due to come out in a few months, and so some people are already questioning whether her "death" is a publicity stunt.

(What follows is from the website)

Montreal writer Pierre Thibeault worked with Arcan at the magazine Ici, and at TV's Canal Vox.

He said Friday she was the most important feminist writer in Quebec in recent years.

But, he said, the young author tended to keep to herself.

"She was a mysterious person. She was a real writer, and what I mean by that is she was not talking much about her personal life or the work she was doing. If she was writing a book she was not talking about it to people. If she was writing it, she was keeping it to herself," Thibeault said.

Nelly Arcan was 36 years old.


wolfBoy said...

from "La duexieme vie de nelly arcan", in the magazine L'Actualite:

--"L'autofiction est une pratique sado-maso. 'J'etais mes tripes sur la place publique. C'etait presque un sacrifice de moi-meme que j'etais en train de faire,' reconnait Nelly Arcan. 'Je n'ai pas de regrets, mais je ne veux plus de ca'."


Auto-biographical fiction is a sadomasochistic practice. I have my affairs in a public place. It's a self-sacrifice that I'm in the process of taking," says Nelly Arcan. "I have no regrets, but I don't want any more of it."

james said...

Tragic. I hope it wasn't a suicide, nothing like more self-sacrifice.

I'm not sure about that Thibeault character..."She was a real writer, she was not talking about her personal life or work she was doing"...what does that even mean? that you have to be introverted about your work to be real?"

This writer sound really interesting
, I'm definitely going to try to pick up some of her work. thanks wb.

c-dog said...

Writing about the desire to be loved takes b-lls.

G-d bless her soul.

And so it goes.

cara said...


and I remember reading about her and you talking about her, so it matters.

renamaphone said...


That's such terrible news.

wolfBoy said...

Sadly, I think the police have stated they are treating it as a suicide.

As for Thiabault, I think/imagine he was referring to her being a "real" writer in the sense that so many people talk about work they're doing or going to do without actually doing very much of it, whereas she was, I think, one of those "put your head down and work" types. It's about the difference between affecting an air of artiness while doing coke in trendy Plateau bars (a favorite Montreal pastime that she talks a lot about in her books) vs. actually spending long, lonely hours sweating over the making of art.

If you ever have a chance, I recommend Folle-- so open and transparent it's painful at points. And Putain has been translated into English as "Whore" (the only English translation thus far).

I feel so sad about this. So many people made fun of her while she was alive for her big boobs and dyed blonde hair and collagen lips, and now that she's gone, of course, I have no doubt they'll be falling all over themselves to proclaim her genius. (The hosts of the smart-ass talk show "Tout le monde en parle" in particular made endless sport of her. Jerks.)

It's strange-- after I read "Folle", I remember thinking that I wished I could meet her and give her a hug and tell her she's okay, and good, and beautiful, and that I thought it wouldn't matter if she cut all her pretty hair off and walked around in a burlap sack, because she was a writer of the first order. I wish I had had the chance. I wonder if she had any real friends, and where her family was, and why she took her own life.

wolfBoy said...

...if in fact she did, which is not entirely clear just yet.

wolfBoy said...

A quote from Folle:

"And then it followed that I became afraid of everything, afraid that this child would become like you, afraid that he would be born into a past so full of other women.

It seemed to me that, in becoming like you, this child would leave me."

the a.c.t. said...

Chic Gamine played on a tv show on canal Vox last February and she was a guest on the same show. I met her in the green room. She was very quiet, but very interesting. This is such terrible news.