Listening for Jupiter (Les corps extraterrestres is the original French title) is the fourth book to be published by QC Fiction and their first of 2017 (release date is June). It joins such well-received titles as Brothers, The Unknown Huntsman and Life in the Court of Matane, all translated from the original French language writings. However, what is unique about Jupiter is that two translators have been employed, one for each of the two main characters, Xavier and Hollywood. One would assume that this helps in not only getting the entire novel translated more quickly (not the publisher’s intent, I was informed. – ED) but would aid in keeping each character’s voice unique throughout the story.
Listening for Jupiter is the story of two men (the aforementioned Xavier and Hollywood) who encounter each other in dreams, for reasons unknown to them. Xavier is a pharmaceutical rep who travels to get contracts for his company to sell their drugs to doctors and such. Hollywood is a student who works part time maintaining a graveyard in Montreal. As a backdrop to their dreams and their pursual of meeting in real life, the Earth is suffering from climate change. It is March and it is 25°C in Montreal. It hasn’t even snowed over the winter. Where it is snowing, though, is on the North American east coast and Western Europe, causing major travel delays (much to Xavier’s chagrin) among other things.
Dreams and Reality
Edgar Allan Poe wrote: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” and that is what came to mind while reading this fascinating story. It is difficult to separate dreams from reality at various times, much like an actual dream. For instance, how do Saké’s (she’s a friend of Hollywood) parents know where she is living since she never tells them (or anyone else) where she is moving to? Also, Hollywood’s heart was removed and replaced by a machine: “I am the only human being on Earth to live without a heart. My blood flows all the same, and that’s just the way it is.” It wasn’t removed for any physical defect, for Hollywood tells us: “The doctors took it out to cure that weariness and gloom we’ve been unable to treat” but he hasn’t noticed any change in his attitude since. Then there is the mysterious Gia, whom Xavier assists in a moment of distress, but never gets to meet again (but gets letters from her). She appears to have some control over events surrounding the two men. Dreamlike stuff.
Due to the intermingling of dreams and reality, the story may be difficult to follow at times, but it is nevertheless a masterful accomplishment of creative writing by Mr Landry. The story shifts back and forth from Hollywood and his vagabond friends Saké and Chokichi to Xavier and his quest for some meaning to his life. Connecting the two are their dreams and a reoccurring documentary on Jupiter that always seems to be on TV. The storyline borders on semi- science fiction, particularly as it deals with climate change and celestial phenomena like meteor showers. And dreams are a type of time travel, are they not? The author has the last word in his book:
“I wrote this book so that I could go on exploring through fiction the topics I am obsessed with: existence, strangeness, how each of us experiences reality and the world around us.”
I would say that Listening for Jupiter accomplishes what Mr Landry has set out to do. While you will certainly find it a different type of story in the way it unfolds, its themes nevertheless encourage thought and interpretation in a way that very few other novels do today. Once again, QC Fiction is to be applauded for giving the English-speaking world such wondrous works like Listening for Jupiter. It has already won the Ottawa Book Award for its French version, and I am sure the translation will garner more recognition for this fine young author.
Postscript: there are many references to music throughout the book, (particularly Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Mahler) and the playing of records on a turntable, which was interesting to note especially in light of the virtual absence of any other type of modern technology being mentioned or employed by any of the characters. If you are interested in actually ‘listening for Jupiter’, visit Radio JOVE for more information and sound bytes of Jovian sounds. And yes, Jupiter and its four main moons can be seen with the naked eye in the night sky!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pierre-Luc Landry is an author, editor, and publisher and has a PhD in creative writing. He is a faculty member at the Royal Military College of Canada’s French Studies department. Listening for Jupiter is Landry’s second novel and his first to appear in translation.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS
Arielle Aaronson has a diploma in Translation Studies from Concordia University and an M.A. in Second Language Education from McGill University. Her first translation, 21 Days in October, was published by Baraka Books in 2013.
Madeleine Stratford is a literary translator and professor of Translation at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. In 2013, she was awarded the John Glassco Prize by the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada. She translated Marianne Apostolides at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in 2014 and was nominated in 2016 for a Governor General’s Award for English-to-French translation.