A Matter of Gravity is about the forces that draw two men together. Hermann, an embalmer and doctor’s son, devotes himself to the dead to mask his disappointment that, unlike his father, he cannot cure the living. Hu is an ailing pianist who dwells in memories of past glory. Hermann displaces his drive for perfection and order onto his elderly neighbours. Hu, ashamed of his lame, knobbed hands, rarely leaves his airless room. Hermann contends he is eternally separated from the world by a “permanent cushion of air” that keeps him wavering between two women and hovering above humanity. Hu is bound to a nightmarish reality, shuffling between emphysema, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson’s disease.
When a mysterious manuscript, possibly written by one of Hermann’s centenarian neighbours, connects one man’s routine with the other’s, an extended afternoon at the park eventually leads back to Hu’s piano. This marks the beginning of the men’s tenuous relationship, which, while healing in nature, is made more fragile by the pianist’s heightened mortality.
A Matter of Gravity is a sensitive, delicate, and humorous novel that unfolds in liminal spaces: between life and death, youth and age, earth and sky. By the end of the final, transformative meeting between Hermann and Hu, Vachon gently broaches the question that paralyzes each man and the people whom they love: When faced with terminal illness, how do we embrace the unsatisfactory life we leave behind?
“You take leave of this book with renewed joy in your heart.”
– Jean Fugère
“A beautiful, surprising novel that speaks with tenderness and dark humour.”
– La Semaine
“A meditation on disease, death, and old age … [A Matter of Gravity] tackles these difficult issues with surprising grace.”
– La Presse
After studying French literature in Quebec and France, Hélène Vachon began working for the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications. Since 1995, she has published two novels, more than twenty works of children’s literature, and a number of translations.
Phyllis Aronoff translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry from French, solo or with co-translator Howard Scott, with whom she won the Governor General’s Award for translation in 2018 for Descent Into Darkness, by Edem Awumey. Among her recent translations is Message Sticks, by Innu poet Joséphine Bacon. In addition to literature, she has translated widely in the humanities. The Wanderer, her translation of La Québécoite, by Régine Robin, received the Jewish Book Award for fiction in 1998. Her co-translations with Howard Scott include four books by Madeleine Gagnon and Two Solicitudes, conversations between Victor-Lévy Beaulieu and Margaret Atwood. Scott and Aronoff received the Quebec Writers’ Federation Translation Award (2002) for The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701, by Gilles Havard, and several of their translations have been finalists for various other awards.
Howard Scott is a Montreal literary translator who works with fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His translations include works by Madeleine Gagnon, science-fiction writer Élisabeth Vonarburg, and Canada’s Poet Laureate, Michel Pleau. Scott received the Governor General’s Literary Award for his translation of Louky Bersianik’s The Euguelion. The Great Peace of Montreal of 1701, by Gilles Havard, which he co-translated with Phyllis Aronoff, won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Translation Award. A Slight Case of Fatigue, by Stéphane Bourguignon, another co-translation with Phyllis Aronoff, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. Howard Scott is a past president of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada.
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