Black Bird

Paperback $13.95

Mar 09, 2004 | 320 Pages

Ebook $9.99

Jul 27, 2011

  • Paperback $13.95

    Mar 09, 2004 | 320 Pages

  • Ebook $9.99

    Jul 27, 2011

Awards in Canada First Novel Award WINNER 2004

Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book NOMINEE 2004

Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour NOMINEE 2004


“This macabre, sometimes fantastical, often hilarious first novel…manages to be at once ghastly, farcical and shot through with a pathos that tugs about equally at mind and heart. Black Bird is a terrific read, an epic critique of and lament for the decades of rhetoric and rancour, and blood, that have yet to lead Quebec to the mythic prize of nationhood…. Vive le satirical livre!” — The Globe and Mail

“a stunning debut novel…wildly inventive and darkly funny…. Bravura plotting and comic talent are only the surface of Black Bird’s achievement. Basilières has the essential qualities of a first-rate satirist, in spades. He displays an abiding love for his characters, however awfully they behave, but his rage is equally inextinguishable…. His brilliant novel is an extended metaphor for the messy, intractable, essentially unbreakable web that history has made of Canada.” — Brian Bethune, Maclean’s

“At first glance, [Black Bird] looks a little like a Canadian take on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. But where Franzen depicts the decline of the nuclear family, Basilières gives us a core meltdown. . . . Spirited, clever [and] dead on.” — The Gazette (Montreal)

Black Bird rocks. An exuberant new Quebec voice that speaks for all of us living in the spaces in between.” — Susan Swan

“When someone tells you that a first novel is ‘brilliant’ or ‘stunning,’ they’re usually lying and they know it. But occasionally a book comes along that’s as good as the jacket cover blurb says it is. Michel Basilières’ first novel is a work of enormous love; it’s intelligent without the pirouettes, literate without showing off. And very funny. It’s that rare thing among novels, a book you should actually read twice.” — David Gilmour

Black Bird is a great, wonderful monster of a novel, from the history of Frère André’s black heart to the screeching of the crow, Grace, from its astounding descriptions of Montreal to its observations of the compulsions and frustrations of one Family Desouche, it ushers in a new, hilarious, wildly imaginative, powerful and heartfelt voice.” — Edward Carey

“If ever a book defied description it is Black Bird. Covering themes as big as Canada itself and as dangerous as the battle field of family life, it is outrageous, hilarious and surreal. It is a remarkable creation, brilliantly original.” — Mary Lawson

“The delightful, macabre nature of Michel Basilières’ novel doesn’t hide the real sweetness of a writer who so obviously loves his fellows, especially when they are at their worst. Basilières’ comic sensibility is as black and shining as a crow’s wing. I believe Lovecraft must be sitting up in his grave and grinning.” — Gail Anderson-Dargatz

From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
From the time I was a child I read and loved books. Since I’m stubborn I refused to learn any marketable skills, and by the time I was an adult couldn’t get a decent job, but I’d read more than most people do in a lifetime and had boxes full of writing. I briefly went to university and learned it wasn’t for me. Then I just kept at it. I think there’s less choice for some people than others.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
There weren’t any novels I could find that reflected my experience, so I set out to write one. By the time I did, I already had another one in the drawer which had gone nowhere. I realized I needed to work harder than ever before. It’s not enough to be good, or lucky, and I was far from connected. I felt I had to do something that would be impossible to ignore. During the long process I was terrified that I was wasting my time, that nothing would come of it.

3) What is it that you’re exploring in this book?
It’s essentially a portrait of the Montreal I knew, sort of from the bottom up. There’s precious little of this in Canadian literature — there’s enough agonizing, alright, but not much testimony from the urban working class. Though Montreal has been gifted with Mordecai Richler and David Fennario. Thematically, death and rebirth play a large part. There’s a lot of darkness in it because Montreal is so grey for so much of the year. Some Montrealers disagree with me, but it’s my experience, after all. On top of this, I was trying to tell myself a lot of jokes. Some of them will never be apparent to anyone else, but at the time I thought, “Okay, if this never gets published, you can still take it out of the drawer in twenty years, and it better please you when you do.”

4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
This is a real toss-up. I like the women over the men, I think. The women all have an honesty in their motivations, they’re just trying to be true to themselves. Bu the men are selfish and lazy. So, Marie, Aline, Mother. I must admit I’ve got a fondness for Woland, but readers of Bulgakov can see I just stole him, so that doesn’t count.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
Look for the ideas. I would say that to anyone reading anything. You can ooh and aah over surface pleasures, which is where our delight in reading comes from, but if you want to think about what was in the author’s head, you’ll have to ask the same kind of questions writers do about their own work. Why these words, and what do they mean? Why do they come at this point? What comes just before, or just after? What do they add up to?

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?
One thing points out the difference between reading and writing a book. An interviewer asked me to talk about the non-human character in Black Bird and I drew a blank on him. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about and he finally had to name the crow.

7) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
Well nobody ever asks if I’m going to write about Montreal again, but I’m not sure it’s a question I want to answer. And no one ever asks my personal position on Quebec independence.

8) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
To a small extent they all do. It’s very difficult to understand your own work the way other people see it. So whatever someone else says is a piece of the puzzle, a view from outside. Sometimes it merely confirms something nebulous in your own thinking, sometimes it’s surprising. The bad can be as valuable as the good, though of course it can throw you off emotionally.

9) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
I believe there’s two different things at work in a writer’s mind: the authors he or she loves, and those that have influenced them. They’re not at all the same thing sometimes, and I think the question of influence is best answered by others. Also, there are and have been an enormous number of excellent and fascinating writers. But so as not to dodge the question, here’s a few: Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Bulgakov, Kundera, Voltaire, Julio Cortazar, Borges, Rushdie, Angela Carter, E.T.A. Hoffman, Goethe, Diderot, Samuel R. Delany, Antonin Artaud, Barthes and Foucault. For some years my ultimate admiration has been for Italo Calvino, a great writer of enormous strength and breadth who seemed to be able to write anything better than anyone else. His work was always brief, lucid, elegant, imaginative, superbly structured and controlled, firmly anchored in both life and mind.

10) If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?
I really like food and drink. Since moving to Toronto I’ve had to learn to cook for myself, and it turns out I really enjoy baking and otherwise using the oven. Maybe I could be a baker. It’s very satisfying. Or restaurant reviewer. Imagine being paid to eat out.

11) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
At the risk of sounding pretentious, having written a book myself, I feel they are so personal that you’d have to be the author to undertake the task. Borges wrote a famous short story about this: “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” Menard attempts to write Don Quixote and can only succeed by becoming Cervantes. Since we can never be someone other than ourselves, he fails; yet since the resulting book is the individual product of a separate person, he succeeds. So in the end, for better or worse, my own book.

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