Featured Fiction: The Invention of Death by Hubert Aquin

– by Hufsa Tahir

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Aquin’s The Invention of Death is an emotional ride that treads through the murky rapids of one man’s depression and his eventual contemplation of suicide.

The reason I enjoyed this book is simple: I flipped to the first page and was immediately caught up in the scene. This is an author who knows how to build a grim mood. The novella opens with René Lallemant alone in his dark hotel room, having bid farewell to his lover, a married woman whom he’s been seeing for a year and has no intention of seeing again. He has not told her this either. It isn’t clear whether René is cruel or just apathetic – his thought processes are baffling in their Stygian detachment to everything around him.

Right away, it’s easy to tell there is something terribly off about him. René is a brooder, given to much introspection, and has a cynical streak of pessimism so strong, he can no longer tell foe from friend. He is convinced his old friend Jean-Paul is sabotaging his career progress to keep René forever a subordinate – and we can never fully ascertain that he isn’t – and thinks that his current fling is cheating on him…with her husband. With his career prospects looking bleak and his love life seemingly flimsy, René feels as if he is accomplishing nothing, that he would be better off ending his paltry existence altogether.

As he gets in his car and drives toward a predetermined bridge where he can crash through and fall to his own death, he is still quite undecided. René’s contemplations of suicide take him on a journey through his memories: he remembers old flings, hapless incidents in his past, even his father’s face after a fight with his mother. He even remembers brief moments where he felt strengthened. Ultimately as he draws close to the bridge, these memories push him toward making the most significant decision his life.

Does he live or cave in to a quick death? Pick up a copy of The Invention of Death and find out!

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