Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review #15: Available Light by Herménégilde Chiasson

(Delightful essays from one of Canada's better known Acadian writer.)

These short intelligent essays, many less than three pages, reveal an author with a sense of playful erudition. Addressing themes that touch on the fading Acadian way of life, art and art history, as well as literature and creativity, Chiasson writes with the pastels and watercolors of a poet.

Who could resist an essay that opens with lines like these (from ‘Pray for Him’): “Paris wrapped us in its silken cocoon and its mystery. Escape, novelty, discovery – in short, adventure – was our only driving force, although we did have a car.” At the same time, Chiasson can write from a deep revelatory sense of melancholy: “The more we live the more we see, and we await the fateful moment when our eyes will be opened forever.” (‘A Photographer at the Louvre’) The collection is filled with thoughtful, beautiful lines that echo long after they have been read.

These are not deep philosophical essays (cf. George Steiner) nor political/social commentary (cf. Mordecai Richler or Salman Rushdie), but more in the mode of an Eduardo Galleano – poetic, concise, insightful. Chiasson visits a number of places, most notably, his childhood in Acadian New Brunswick, Montreal, Paris. He also touches on the lives and work of numerous writers and artists: Rimbaud, Kerouac, Picasso, Giotto, Cendrars, Duchamp and others. His thoughts on such things as memory, photography and children’s crayons are perceptive, constantly entertaining and thoroughly illuminating.

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