Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Jean Marc Ah-Sen

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Jean Marc Ah-Sen

Jean Marc Ah-Sen's Grand Menteur (BookThug) is a literary debut to pay attention to. Lee Henderson called the novel "too mysterious, too original, too funny, too pure, too profound to be the work of a mortal being".

Grand Menteur tells the story of Serge, the titular Grand Menteur of a shadowy world of Mauritian street gangs, and his daughter, who knows little of her father's mysterious world. The Grand Menteur's main job is to keep the police confused with his famously convincing lies and alibis. While the Menteur is a natural, he worries about his daughter's future, especially when her natural talent for violence begins to emerge.

We're pleased to speak to Jean Marc today as part of our WAR Series: Writers as Readers interview series, where we ask authors to tell us about the books that have shaped them.

He tells us about why he's never cried over a book and why he isn't a re-reader, and he prescribes books for every ailment (we're writing this down!).

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The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
A Tintin adventure, most likely The Secret of the Unicorn.

A book that made me cry:
This has never happened as far as I can remember. The printed word poses for me an insurmountable distancing effect, and my emotional reactions tend to be mediated heavily by formal considerations of the text. Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar on the Moon did make me despair for the future in a way I did not think possible though, with its melancholic register and believable account of how boyhood charm commonly gives way to middle-aged conformism and loutishness. The Road to Wigan Pier was another very torturous read, especially the realization that basically nothing has changed since 1937...

The first adult book I read:
I don't know about feeling adultish afterwards, but I experienced a sense of validation as a reader when I finished Gravity's Rainbow; I was daunted by the challenge, but I knew from the first page that it was going to be something very special in my life. The book exploded many of the limitations I previously held towards literature.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
The funniest book I have ever read is The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. Smollett is a force to be reckoned with, and I need advance as evidence no further exhibit than the Dr. Linden pump-room scene. It shouldn’t go unmentioned as well that Matthew Bramble is bar none one of the greatest literary inventions of all time.

The book I have re-read many times:
I am tempted to do this, but have always resisted for fear that works of initially high estimations are lowered by a faux-position of “critical superiority.” The Wanting Seed, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, Wuthering Heights, The Third Policeman, Time's Arrow, A Doctor of the Old School, Thus Spake Zarathustra, would all make superb candidates for this exercise, I'm sure; but I think I would rather read a “bad” book I'm unfamiliar with than retread familiar territory with a work that has already colonized my mind with its impressions.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph. I have owned this book for years but have never finished it for no other reason than time, which I am increasingly in short supply.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
I would prescribe for my seventeen year old self an intensive program against all the virulent teenage maladies. To treat confidence, The Tenth Man. Insecurity, Eddie Campbell's Alec. For listlessness, Joe Orton's The Complete Plays would serve. Despair would be curbed by The Magic Christian, angst could annihilated by A Kestrel for a Knave, and apathy would similarly meet a bitter end by encountering William Hazlitt's Table Talk. For the lovelorn, La Rochefoucauld's Collected Maxims and Other Reflections, and against hyperactivity, Donald Barthelme's The King.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
Edith Sitwell's' English Eccentrics is the touchstone against which I measure all literary effort, because it renders all subsequent work supererogatory to some degree.

The best book I read in the past six months:
Momus' The Book of Scotlands. I have been a longtime admirer of Nick Currie's musical career, but I'm in awe of his prowess as a writer. Alternative versions of Scotland are presented in this collection of counterfactual thought experiments, from the “pleasure hotel Scotland” around the tip of an active volcano that erupts every seven years, to a series of “Berlin-era Bowie Scotlands” where the singer is made Prime Minister.

The book I plan on reading next:
For pleasure, I am currently reading Andre Maurois' Ariel and Voltaire's A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary. For research, Paul Fussell's Class and Kevin Cahill's Who Owns the World. Despite its negative reviews, I am very much interested in reading Morrissey's List of the Lost.

A possible title for my autobiography:
Grand Menteur.


Jean Marc Ah-Sen was born in East York, Ontario, in 1987. He comes from a family of Mauritian winemakers and was a frequent contributor to the Innis Herald, a University of Toronto newspaper. He lives in Toronto with his wife and son. Grand Menteur is his first novel. Find Ah-Sen on Facebook or Twitter.

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