September 26, 2014

Afternoon Book Chat with André Alexis and Martha Baillie

By Kortnee Stevens

Until Wednesday I'd never had the pleasure of attending an afternoon book chat, and having only attended the one so far I’m saddened that I won’t have an opportunity to attend another. This book chat was a healthy dose of our imaginations within reality. The parallels between André Alexis and Martha Baillie were remarkable, as Charlene Diehl had pointed out. Both authors’ novels feature characters placed into surreal situations, or environments that they’re unfamiliar with, and who begin to question the foundations of reality itself.

André Alexis, Martha Baillie and Charlene Diehl
André Alexis could narrate the rest of my life and I would never become sick of hearing his voice. His novel, Pastoral, is influenced by the idea of having a God who constantly interacts with you. Alexis, calling himself a ‘Catholic Agnostic’, has an intricate view of the world we live in, saying “We are being seduced by a notion of what is real.” He addresses the issues of reality television influencing our reality, explaining how that is far from what is real and as we try to reproduce this reality, we become heavily disappointed. Within his novels, Alexis tells us that he “adds things that are necessary, not luxurious.”

Martha Baillie, coming all the way from Toronto, tells us of numerous visual pieces of art that helped her novel, The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. One such piece, done by sculptor Brian Jungen, was a giant skeleton of a whale made out of white garden chairs. Baillie explained that this represented so much more than just whales and lawn chairs, that as she walked underneath the rib cage of this animal she realized it represented the tar sands, the war over oil, environmental crisis, and everything in between. This primarily inspired her to create this kind of world for Schlögel – to throw him into a surrealist environment and study him to see what he would do. Baillie explains how it truly takes an active imagination to see the humanity in each other. She tells the brief story of how a man fell in love with a woman within a painting and stole the painting. Upon his escape, the maid of the house saw him and followed him to the taxi where he brutally murdered her. “It’s almost funny,” she remarks, “that the man saw humanity within the woman in the picture and fell in love with that, to the extent of murdering a real life human being in whom he saw no humanity at all. It’s almost a miracle that we can see each other and treat each other so humanly because of our imaginations.”

With my perception of reality thoroughly skewed, I left having felt as though I had gazed into the abyss, and the abyss gazed back into me. (Friedrich Nietzsche) 

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