“It is not nothing, the power of a prime minister. Francois Legault is not a reviewer, not an ordinary reader, not someone who reviews Goodreads. He is the Premier of Quebec. If he talks about books, the simple fact that he talks about them, it becomes political,” argues author Kevin Lambert. Rising star of the Quebec novel, he responded this weekend, with a political critique of the government’s response to the housing crisis, to a favorable comment made by François Legault on his most recent book. Focus on a reading conflict. And policies.
Last Saturday, François Legault pointed out on his Facebook page that he liked May our joy remain (Heliotrope, 2022). This Lambert’s third book is a “well researched on architecture”, wrote the Prime Minister, composed of “long breathless sentences”.
It was the Prime Minister’s summary that made the author react. “An internationally renowned architect is accused of gentrifying neighborhoods. Nuanced criticism of the Quebec bourgeoisie,” continues Mr. Legault. “Pressure groups and journalists are looking for scapegoats for the housing crisis in Montreal. »
Mr. Lambert replied. “Reading, if you don’t get anything out of what you read, isn’t much use. […] No need to “look for scapegoats for the housing crisis” […] You are not scapegoats, you are people in power who could do something and do nothing. There’s a word for that: responsible. »
The debate, which continued between the two men for a few bursts, then migrated to the voices of the Provincial Regrouping for the Defense of Tenants’ Rights, the Member of Parliament for Mercier, the Solidarity Ruba Ghazal, and the author Jean- Philippe Martel (Among the sublimatedBoréal), who takes the opportunity to reflect on the media coverage of literature and authors.
The criticized critic
“This is the first time that the Prime Minister’s readings have been directly and sharply criticized by the author concerned,” indicates Jonathan Livernois, specialist in the relationship between literature and politics and professor at Laval University.
François Legault is a regular reader comments, on Facebook and in the media. We have seen him recommend writings by Denise Bombardier, David Goudreault, Michel Jean, Marie Laberge, Elena Ferrante and Jean d’Ormesson. Caroline Dawson, in political disagreement, found herself at react to one of his criticisms of Where I land (Rumbling). Legault’s recommendations have already debated themselves.
Passing by Normétal on Monday, the Prime Minister said that he would not comment on the situation… before going there with a comment. “I like to read, I comment on books. I try to help Quebec authors. Now, well, if there are some who don’t like it, it’s their choice, ”he said in a press scrum.
Help Quebec authors? The sociologist of literature Michel Lacroix welcomes Kevin Lambert’s challenge here “to the instrumentalization of his novel”. “Speaking the truth to power is not so easy, it weakens, requires a lot of energy,” added the UQAM professor.
“François Legault is always between two waters”, analyzes for his part Mr. Livernois. “Between the promotion of Quebec products, be it maple syrup or the book of a voter from L’Assomption, and a desire to show that his government takes care of the problems of society, revealed by the literature. In short, he knows what he is doing” when he comments on the books, believes the specialist.
“We like ministers to be great readers,” recalls Isabelle Boisclair, professor at the University of Sherbrooke. Lucien Bouchard was praised because he had a great library. Mr. Legault is gaining a good reputation as a prime minister who is a reader,” explains the specialist in the ideological, political, economic and social contexts of social transformations.
Extension of the field of literary struggle
Kevin Lambert says he usually welcomes criticism. Any reviews? Yes. “I systematically defend interpretations of my books that do not agree with what I see. It is the characteristic of a work to arouse and welcome different interpretations; and then to witness the struggle between these different interpretations. »
“But there, it’s different, according to Mr. Lambert. The Prime Minister is not, and cannot be, whether he likes it or not, an ordinary reader. And as an author, I absolutely did not want anyone to think that I subscribed to the vision of [Coalition avenir Québec] of the housing crisis. »
Kevin Lambert, 30, has seen his two previous novels, union fiction Roberval Quarrel (Heliotrope, 2018) and You’ll love what you killed (Héliotrope, 2017), finding themselves in contention, one year apart, for the prestigious Prix Médicis — a rarity for Quebec books. The author makes his literature a sociopolitical critique. Is this debate on Facebook a natural extension of the domain of his literary struggle?
“As an artist, you don’t have to be in a position of eternal recognition, or in this somewhat stubborn posture, even, towards the leaders. We have the right, I even think it is sometimes a duty, to disagree with power. »
“I receive injustices in a strong way”, replies Kevin Lambert when asked why he returns to socio-economic issues in his work. ” I’m touched. I write with this material. These issues mix with my affects. That’s what calls me. »
“But you know, recalls the author, I am interested in many other things. In the last book, I also look at how we build all kinds of buildings to justify our way of life. We all have a personal scenario, which comes with blind spots, me first, which makes us perhaps blind to the consequences of our actions. »
For Isabelle Boisclair, “it’s a great lesson in literature” that the writer offers us. “A debate more than a lesson. But it is an awakening to a way of understanding literature. »
With François Carabin in Quebec