It’s fashionable in some circles to argue that the novel is a dying art form. According to this group – which includes, ironically, published fiction writers – novels no longer have the power to move society, nor do they offer much space for new forms of artistic creativity.
In her remarkable début novel Ru, Saigon born but now Montreal-based writer Kim Thúy clearly demonstrates that the reports on the death of the novel have been greatly exaggerated. In a beautifully written, poetic story, she tells the tale of a Vietnamese woman who grows up in a rich household, before fleeing Vietnam following the Communist victory in the mid-1970s in her country’s long civil war. First landing in a Malaysian refugee camp and then moving to Quebec, the woman’s story is a moving account full of love and horror, beauty and pain, which manages to constantly celebrate the wonder of life.
Ottawa residents can hear Thúy discuss her writing this coming Wednesday, April 17, when she speaks at the Centretown location of Octopus Books at 251 Bank Street, 2nd Floor. Admission is free. Local poet and playwright David O’Meara, who is also the artistic director of VERSeFest and a bartender at the Manx Pub on Elgin Street, will be interviewing Thúy.
Besides the touching narrative, what is truly remarkable about Ru is its format. Rather than using a conventional prose style, the story is told in a serious of poetic vignettes, which are akin to skimming through a literary album of photographs.
The best way I can describe this novel is to compare it to pointillism, the painting technique that uses distinct dots to create images. Thúy’s observations are contained in short passages of one to three pages long, (literary “dots” so to speak), which when combined produce a remarkably fluid tale.
Originally published in French in 2010, Ru won the 2010 Governor General’s Award for French language fiction, in addition to other international prizes. Translated into English in 2012, the book was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. While it is a quick read, (I finished it in about three hours), the book’s 141 pages contain a lot of emotion, insight and characters. A remarkable work which shows that the novel can still be a brilliant art form.