In Quebec literature of the early 2000s, when new voices were born such as those of Marie-Sissi Labrèche, Nelly Arcan, Emmanuelle Turgeon, Guillaume Vigneault or Maxime-Olivier Moutier, that of Marie Hélène Poitras appeared with Suddenly the Minotaur, in 2002.
This is one of the most significant titles of the time, as far as I’m concerned. Suddenly the Minotaur, a two-part novel that recounts a savage assault, from the perspective of the victim and the point of view of the aggressor, has remained etched in my memory. A powerful first novel that made me read all the other titles of Marie Hélène Poitras since.
I still have the original edition in my library, and the reissue proposed by Alto these days, 20 years later, in a version revised by the author, gives me here the opportunity to come back to a book that does not hasn’t aged a bit, especially after the #metoo movement. Because of the great violence it contains, Marie Hélène Poitras confides to me that it is the “black sheep” of her bibliography which also counts Cute’s death and other stories, Griffintown and The desire.
This novel had entered me into it so much at the time that I was convinced that its author had really lived the event which is related there in a frontal way. The details were too vivid. I was around the same age as the heroine, Ariane, and I had identified with this character, with her strength, her instinct for survival and her refusal to be a victim. In this story based on the famous myth of the Minotaur, this monster locked in a labyrinth that can appear at any time, I was with Ariane when she faced Mino Torres, who wants to strangle and rape her, but I I was also in the head of a horrible man who hates women. I also found it very audacious that the writer also chose to place herself in the shoes of the aggressor.
Out of modesty, I never dared to ask Marie Hélène Poitras about the most terrifying episode of her life, but she confirms that yes, it happened to her, much like in the novel. A stranger did break into the first apartment she lived in in Montreal and attacked her. She nearly died, but managed to save herself. The nightmare, what. This man, who had committed other attacks, was arrested. And Marie Hélène Poitras began writing her first novel on a trip to Europe that she paid for with compensation for victims of criminal acts; she left to get a change of scenery and stop being afraid.
In this disgusting period of my life, there was also a wonderful journey of resilience, I was in the intoxication of this journey.
Marie Helene Poitras
The Anne-Hebert Prize
In 2002, it was time for autofiction, but Marie Hélène Poitras preferred the path of fiction to recount her trauma. It’s a choice she has never regretted, but 20 years later, she is ready to publicly assume the autobiographical inspiration of this novel. “It was my first book, and I didn’t want to be ‘tagged’ as a victim, says the one who remembers the treatment reserved for Nelly Arcan by the media. I felt more like a hero who had managed to overcome that. I really thought that was what I needed to do. I was able to live and then write feeling more free. Literature is my whole life, and I made a literary choice, I discovered that writing, for me, was going outside of me. I didn’t want readers to feel sorry, to see my face when they read the book. I wanted to test my writing skills, and if people had just taken pity, I wouldn’t have known if the book was any good. »
Marie Hélène Poitras remembers certain paternalistic criticisms – in particular, she was told that it was not realistic for Ariane to do so well. She felt a change in the reception of her first book when she received the Anne-Hébert prize, an unexpected gift, because she considers herself the biggest fan of the author of Kamouraska. For the anecdote, this prize was awarded by Marie-Claire Blais, then president of the jury, who proved to be an ally. Marie-Claire Blais was also to write the preface to this reissue, but she died suddenly before she could send her text.
It’s never easy for a writer to read his first book. Marie Hélène Poitras retains her affection for this novel which was a cathartic experience. “It’s a first novel, with its strengths and weaknesses, which wanted to disturb. I remember that people did not really know what to do with this UFO, the amoral side had disturbed the world. I really like the first novels, there is always something that wants to scream, to break something. I don’t know how to explain what he did to me, but it’s like what happened to me was locked in a book and I was released from it. I almost fooled myself. One of my last sentences affirmed that the important thing was that the Minotaur remains locked in the labyrinth of the novel. It’s still special, the impact of writing on our sense of reality. »
For this reissue, accompanied by an afterword that tells the genesis of the novel, the writer made some changes, things that bothered her, but the major change is that the diptych is completely reversed, as she had wanted. at the beginning. She had accepted with good grace for her first publication that the story begin with Mino Torres and end more luminously with Ariane; it is now the opposite. “I was criticized at the time for the lack of sanction in this story. We also wondered why the psychopath was entitled to as much space as his victim. »
This book is brutal and brings a certain discomfort. I was a student and loved writers who challenged their readers. I wanted to create an effect, to destabilize, for there to be an emotional reaction to the story I was telling.
Marie Helene Poitras
“Why end on a reassuring note because Ariane is doing well? There is still violence and attacks, no one should experience that, I don’t see why I would reassure people at one level or another. I think it’s pretty honest to end like this. »
“I did not know that, the violence, she continues. It was not part of my universe. When it happens to you, you don’t understand, you ask yourself: “Why me?” I consider that this attack that I experienced is an attack against all women. It was aimed at the feminine, that’s how I understand it. »
Suddenly the Minotaur Wasn’t it both the Ariadne’s thread to get out of a trauma and the sesame that opened the door to her career as a writer? ” Such ! she replies enthusiastically. I consulted a psychologist, but it didn’t seem to help me. It happened to other writers to transfigure a trauma like that. This book changed my life on many levels. »
For my part, it introduced me to one of my favorite female writers. With this reissue, a new generation will discover Marie Hélène Poitras, and perhaps even resonate with her concerns.
Suddenly the Minotaur
Marie Helene Poitras