On 15 March 1977, with his wife’s consent, celebrated writer and former terrorist Hubert Aquin blew his brains out on the grounds of Villa Maria, a Montreal convent school. Shocked by the suicide of his friend, filmmaker Gordon Sheppard feels compelled to find out why Aquin killed himself. During an investigation that lasts twenty-six years, Sheppard eventually discovers, at the heart of this self-murder, an unforgettable love story.
For the past fifty years, people in Western societies have been educated and modulated much more by radio, cinema, turntables, cassette and CD players, TV, VCRs, computers and the Internet than by the published word. To reflect that bias, Sheppard presents the results of his investigation in a graphically varied montage comprising the verbal testimony of Aquin’s family, friends and contemporaries, the written testimony of Aquin and of famous authors from the past who influenced Aquin and who “speak” their writings about suicide, and aural and visual comments and clues that mirror the multi-media environment in which the suicide and the investigation take place.
At the beginning of each chapter, brief Soundscapes provide a sonic, and often sardonic, foretelling of the chapter’s main events; and, sometimes, of the current-affairs context in which these events take place. As well, the Soundscapes offer a link, by words or music and effects, to two investigations of life that guyed Aquin’s own anguished and multi-faceted quest: Dante’s Divine Comedy and James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The result is a unique documentary novel that takes the reader on a Joycean tour of a metropolis in the midst of political and cultural turmoil and a Dantesque journey into the underworld of creative genius.