Matrix Reviews The Obituary

By Lisa Sookraj

The Obituary is a poetic novel that relies on parataxis -the skillful juxtaposition of images, ideas and questions that build throughout the narrative. Scott's narrator describes this Benjaminian approach as "Any flickering plaetary molecule [+ its shadow, memory]. Animate or inanimate. Capable of unexpectedly impacting any other." With succinct cadence, the tangential story sparks and spirals upon itself with tight descriptive passages full of rich imagery and performance in terms of sound, syntax, semantics, and tone.
The novel situates the reader amidst vivid scenes of everyday life in Montreal. Having lived in Mile End for twenty five years, Scott captures the distinct sound of the city through bits of dialogue between Montrealers, focusing on neighbourly relations and notions of difference. The mention of Breton's sense of the individual as a "labyrinthine structure" is correlated to its examination of the triplex, which symbolizes the layered nature of identity and the test itself. The illusion of triplex, Scott explains, is that each apartment is its own seperate dwelling due to private entrances, yet each unit remains part of a shared external community, which influences the middle space and the complexities hidden there. While Breton's Nadja asked "Who am I?" The Obituary emphasizes the complexities of community, asking instead, "Who are we?"
The narrative explores marginality on numerous levels, based on the principle that "in this land everyone is an immigrant." The protagonist Rosine is Anglo, Quebecois, Indigenous and queer (amoungst other things). She is called a 'liar' by her mother for seeking to expose and accept her family's native ancestry, a source of shame and pain for generations before her.
The Obituary's question, "Are we not all prostheses? Moulded by circumstantial evidence?" is informed by psychoanalysts Abraham and Torok's transgenerational phantom -psychologial traumas and secrets that are passed down to successive generations in a family. Abraham and Torok believed the secret in his poetics of hiding was revealed in linguistic or behavioural encodings; they sought coherence amidst fractured meanings and discontinuity. This applies to Scott's splintered narrative, (strewn with symbols and footnotes), as well as to the novel's unique dialect composed of broken language; the narrator "speaking so fast she brutally destroying syntax."
Questioning "why dirty secrets, given everybody having, still being paraded as mysterious" is one of the novel's many astute insights, at times humorous, at times momentous. The narrator delivers lesser known details about Montreal's architectural, political and social history. For example: "'Bloke' is an old term used by francophones to designate anglos, implying someone a little square. And classic anglo term for franco? 'Pepsi!'" The engaging manner in which this inventory is woven throughout the narrative is one of Scott's most notable accomplishments with The Obituary.
Scott's latest offering further proves her ability to create densely textured texts comprised of clever observations on significant topics. As with her previous novels, The Obituary pushes narrative into unchartred territory. The text possesses a brilliant essence of time, place and flight that pulls the reader in, holds them close and urges them to read between the lines, the impressions, the moments.

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