“Like comparing a peacock to a sparrow”: two new books enliven literary traditions

Literary ancestors… beacons, inspiring mentors, useful guides? Old-fashioned guardians of tradition who cast long, inhibiting shadows? A mixture of the two?

Two novels, “Querelle of Roberval” by Montrealer Kevin Lambert and “Until It Shimmers” by former San Francisco Torontonian Alec Scott, are inspired by high-profile titles from the 20th century and are linked to markedly different literary ancestors.

Lambert’s audacious and deliriously stylized “Querelle de Roberval” does not hide the author’s debt to Jean Genet’s transgressive “Querelle de Brest” (1947). Georges Querelle de Genet, a devious, sociopathic queer beauty, has long inspired filmmakers, visual artists and fashion designers.

Lambert (“You will love what you have killed”) not only propels Genet lethal man through time and space. It changes his character and his destiny. In other words, he’s not exactly respectful of the irreverent genius of France (as Sartre called Genet).

Lambert redefines Querelle as a “handsome worker” from Montreal, hired at a sawmill that soon becomes mired in an entrenched – and increasingly toxic – strike that leads to blatant tactics on both sides. A hedonist who “learns to be political”, Querelle is a work in progress. After hours, however, he’s a “magnificent lover,” a peerless stud whose legendary Grindr profile and pornographic endowment magnetizes young men near and far. (Beyond pleasure, Querelle regards sexual gratification as an honorable pursuit: with a satisfied partner, he “will have been persuaded, for a short time, of its usefulness and, in some strange way, of having saved the world , just a moment. bit.”)

Roberval, “a filthy little jumble of bungalows and two-story commercial units that eats away at a stretch of the Lac Saint-Jean shore,” is the dull scene of Lambert’s macabre tragedy. The author intersperses musings on capitalism (in chapters titled “Lumpenproletariat”, “Collective Agreement”, “Solidarity” and so on) with provocative backdrops that include, but are not limited to, misspelled threats, coffee javex, infanticide, Molotov cocktails, suicides, a deadly impalement, prodigious amounts of crack, a baseball game that erupts in violence, and ironic authorial interjections (in which “I – Kevin Lambert, author of this modest fantasy -” explains his personal position on the strike).

Feverish, postmodern to the bone, and unexpectedly moving, the novel is a surprising performance, at a mile a minute.

With chapter titles referencing a handful of august English literary figures (Evelyn Waugh and Christopher Isherwood among them), Scott’s first novel has muted hedge sparrow tones compared to Lambert’s radiant peacock. “Until it Shimmers” is a quiet romance of conversations and scenes.

“Shimmers” is also particularly polite and gentle when viewed in the context of recent and acclaimed gay Bildungsroman, such as Alan Hollinghurst’s “The Swimming-Pool Library” and Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.” Elegiac, it emulates an earlier generation of British literature.

On paper, “Until It Shimmers” should be gripping: a mild-mannered, shamefaced, but disgruntled young Ontarian flies off to educate himself – and find himself – at the height of Thatcherite England and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic.

Colin L. Johnson