One of the recurring themes in Mind the Gap is duality – the dividing-line between English and French, health and illness, reality and imagination, between life and death, country and city, what the characters say and what they actually do….
Growing up in a Quebec village along the St. Lawrence River, I was always fascinated by gaps, cracks, crevices, breaks, rifts – the spaces between things. As a child, I loved to watch blocks of ice collide and divide and raft up over each other, in winter. I was used to boundaries constantly shifting. The barbershop in a nearby town had mirrors in front of the barber chair and also behind the chair, which threw images of the front and back of clients’ heads at each other, front and back, back and forth, ever-shrinking into the distance. This optical illusion of duality intrigued me, and I have never forgotten it. The image from in front of the chair was opposed to the image from behind the chair, which was opposed to a smaller image from in front of the chair, which was opposed to an even smaller image from behind the chair, etc.
As a teenager and young adult from a village, venturing out into the wider world, I was astonished to discover Montreal’s story was so often told in terms of English vs. French polarization. As if reaching out to another space, in another language, was a betrayal of one’s own tribe. Which is like transposing the either/or framework onto an entire fractured society: “either you are with us, or you are against us.” I couldn’t tell if Montrealers loved to hate one another, or hated to love one another! Montreal is full of contrarians – people who take pleasure in opposing, resisting, challenging. The media like either/or polemics, so they mostly pick up on what contrarians say or do, as if this somehow offered a representative cross-section of reality. But it doesn’t. If a society is reduced, brought down to an either/or polarity, then it’s like the optical illusion of sitting in the barber chair all over again.
The problem is: the either/or framework requires you to define people as being inevitably in opposition or in contrast to each other, even to themselves, which means you become the prisoner of a mindset. I have long lived at the meeting-point of French and English, so I’m a hybrid, with one foot in each culture. I reject the either/or framework. I am contrary to the contrarians, you see…
Consider Dostoyevsky’s characters: some of them are like moral abstractions, incarnating either good or evil. At a certain point, you wonder: does Dostoyevsky intend saintliness and demonic evil to be two dimensions of one and the same person, and do these dimensions actually inhabit Dostoyevsky’s own fractured soul? But the characters in Mind the Gap aren’t like that! No way! Most of them are decent enough, but they are unpredictable and they also have foibles. There are characters in the novel who snap, who are pushed over the edge, who are accused of being two-faced, who surprise even themselves by doing things they hadn’t planned to do. They are all trying to escape social mythologies, which are traditional stories society uses to categorize and define us.
Mind the Gap is about the spaces between people, and the spaces are partly marked out by words. So, what as a novelist should I do about this? Mind the Gap is mostly in English, but I introduce French and Spanish poetry and even some Polish and Blackfoot expressions, to keep things lively, to close the spaces, break down language barriers, dipping into one language, then into the other. Of course, I also provide translations! Language in this novel offers freedom, not confinement. It is like a passport out of a paranoid either/or landscape. And Mind the Gap is a “yes, but” book – “yes, there is wanton cruelty, suffering and grief in the world, but this is above all a crazy, funny love story.”