The cover of Louis Hamelin s ambitious new novel about the October Crisis, La Constellation du lynx, shows a trapper s snare set against the background of a snowy clearing in the woods. To have des yeux de lynx is to have exceptionally good vision, and so to capture the wild animal of the title would be to grasp the elusive meaning of the violent events that followed the Front de Liberation du Quebec's decision in 1970 to kidnap British diplomat James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte.
On another level, the snare's looped wire also evokes another image that recurs in the novel as an insistent motif: the chain Laporte wore around his neck and with which he was strangled to death, in circumstances that have remained just as elusive to final understanding. Like the testimonies of the historical participants in the affair, the writer's attitude seems to be that any definitive account would be another kind of trap, distracting us from the larger contradictions in the official accounts of the crisis.
From a literary point of view, however, the image of the snare also serves as a warning to the reader not to miss the forest for the trees. The reviews I have seen have all focused on its presentation of inconvenient "facts" that call into question the official version of what happened, as well as the dark suggestions that CIA, British and Canadian security forces not only infiltrated the FLQ but manipulated the whole October Crisis as a way of delegitimizing Quebec nationalism.
It has to be said that the author has encouraged this kind of reading. In an author's note at the end of the novel, Hamelin declares that he has used "novelistic imagination" primarily "as an instrument of historical investigation," filling in the "facade full of holes" of the official accounts with the "novelist's mortar," mixed from the "unofficial history" he has found in books by Dan Loomis, Louis Fournier and Jacques Ferron. He acknowledges that accounts by participants such as Francis Simard, who was convicted of Laporte's murder, are also full of "deafening silences," for which, though he does not say so explicitly, he attempts to compensate as well.
How plausibly Hamelin succeeds in this is a question I must leave to the experts. Instead, I want to focus on the implications of casting this investigation in the form of a novel. Whatever his stated intentions may be, the writer who does so invites the reader to judge his work not so much by its fidelity to specific facts but by the depth of his imaginative vision--his yeux de lynx, if you will. If that vision is not compelling, there is little reason to spend time on arguments that would be better stated in analytical form. (1) This is all the more true in that--unlike, say, Lee Harvey Oswald, whose motives are reimagined in Don DeLillo's novel Libra, one of Hamelin's acknowledged influences--most of the FLQ militants are still alive and at liberty to fill in the gaps of their own story if they decided to do so. Why risk having your characters being upstaged by their real-life models?
In fact, the...