Taking account of Gordon’s feature film Eliza’s Horoscope, which I saw in Paris in 1976, his amazing renovation of a Victorian townhouse and the family that lives there, his photographic art which I first experienced in Montreal in 1993, and Gordon’s extraordinary novel HA!, plus the many exchanges I’ve had with him over the last ten years, I can say that in my lifetime I have been fortunate enough to know three geniuses – Orson Welles, Peter Ustinov and Gordon Sheppard.
HA! is magnificent… an amazing piece of work, so… wonderfully detailed and artfully constructed. I was only sorry that I had to read through it as lickety split as I did, which is always the way, alas… That said, it has a wonderful bouyancy and humour to it. I laughed out loud more than once, and God but it made me want to spend time in Montreal restaurants.
This witty and remarkable book explores the ‘self-murder’ of a man contending with a craving for death and a passion for life … a spell-binding story by an author who has the instincts of a sleuth and the imaginative insight of an artist. An amazing achievement.
and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas
This is one of the most extraordinary works of literature I have ever read. Although I have worked in the field of cultural psychiatry and suicidology for close to 20 years, I came away from this book feeling that my understanding and appreciation of suicide, Québec and Canadian society and, indeed, the human condition had all been immeasurably deepened. But this does not do justice to the pleasure HA! has given me as a work of art. Simply put, this book is magisterial: playfully conceived, deeply felt, and brilliantly executed.
I have just finished reading your magnificent, riveting, terrifying work, and want to congratulate you and to thank you. How can I find the words? HA! is analytically brilliant, poetically masterful, and truly a thriller … To be held for so long, to be as anxious or angry as I often was, even to smile as often as I did, given the story, given the length — I would say that you have done Sherlock Holmes and Hubert Aquin himself proud … as maybe he knew you would.
How can I thank you? I don’t often live with my books for long (my failure, but the brain grows old), but this one I think will never leave me. You have created something wondrous here … and I wish for this great book the international success it richly deserves.
Thank you for letting me read your beautiful, shocking, frightening and transcendent book.
and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet
HA! is simply staggering in its study of human torment and brilliantly original in the way which the story is told. It is compelling, mesmerizing and truly overwhelming — more profound than T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom and as exciting as any Dashiel Hammett thriller. The only work that comes to mind in CanLit that compares with it, but which it surpasses, is Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano. Moreover, HA! explains the inexplicable: the puzzling personality of Québec. This is the best psychological thriller I have ever read. I suspect it will become a must read by CIA analysts. I also believe it will enjoy wide international praise for it is a work of genius and a literary masterpiece.
I consider Sheppard’s book a masterpiece not to be let out of my sight. I left it on my shelf for months, daunted by its size, not wanting to spend so much time on only one book. A week ago I picked it up and read the first page. The result has been that every spare moment has been spent reading it and I have underlined and underlined, turned down pages, inserted index tabs, lived, breathed and slept the book. One of the reviews calls it “a book without equal in Canadian Literature.” I would agree with that. Nothing that anyone says about the book conveys the magnitude of its scope, the depths to which it plumbs the human heart. I am dumb before it and will never be quite the same as I was before reading it. It is a life’s work, a magnum opus.
This book is the fullest, most differentiated account of the destruction that accompanies artistic creation that I have ever read. That is the aspect of it that moves me most deeply. When I put it down, I wanted to cry tears of thankfulness that there are such people in the world as Aquin’s wife, Andrée, and Sheppard. Andrée is the bravest shadow-seeker I have ever “met.” She has faced the darkness of life, and has faced her own darkness courageously. Her desire to know herself is greater than her desire to think well of herself, greater than anything. That is SO rare, when the darkness is as dark as that in which she has found herself. Re Sheppard, Rilke says, “Great works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience.” Sheppard has gone right to the end of this experience and has indeed created a great work of art. I am in awe. I was filled with humility, and wanting to go down on my knees when I finished this book. In the courage with which it looks into the heart of darkness, HA! has brought me into the presence of the mysterium, as did the ending of Kieslowski’s Blue and the scene of the old professor visiting Vivian at the end of Mike Nichol’s film Wit. This is a book of monumental courage, enormous research and searing integrity and it will still be standing when all of us are dust in the mouth of the earth.
HA! comes the closest to defeating the passage of time of anything I have ever experienced. It comes closest to the multi-dimensioned nature of life of anything I have ever read. And what is defeating the passage of time but defeating death itself?! No wonder I felt as if I was moving through ”the white fire of a great mystery.” The ultimate paradox is that this book about death actually comes as close as is humanly possible to defeating death. This is why I staggered forth from this book using words like the mysterium tremendens. This is why I say that HA! will still be standing when all of us are dust in the mouth of the earth.
When you gave Canada HA! you gave the coutry a new form.
Gordon Sheppard’s HA! is the most unusual work of literature that I have ever read. Its exhaustive treatment of the celebrated French-Canadian writer Hubert Aquin—his life, his politics, his writing, his loves, his relationships, his handwriting, his face, his eyes, his car, his city, his suicide note—brings a human life into unparalleled fullness. Aesthetically, HA! is a beautiful and pleasing object. The Rothko-like cover, the photographs, the document-inserts, the newspaper excerpts, the bulk (almost 900 pages), the drawings, the interviews, the typographical fonts, the handwritten letters make it an object with a large presence. Artistically, HA! for all its thoroughness in investigating the nature, the literary history and motive of suicide, is a work of profound mystery. It shows as much as it tells; it performs, plays, probes, dissects; it conducts an autopsy on stage, but it leaves the body intact. Novel, film script, play, musical score, documentary, HA! entrances by its strangeness, charms by its details and evades critical capture by moving within the paradox that to know almost all about one human person is not to know everything. HA! raises a dead man and makes him live again.
“HA! is an astonishing book, document, sleuth-epic, and quest. And your shaping of it makes it riveting, sardonic, heartfelt, deadpan hilarious and satiric, and sometimes grotesquely poignant. HA! is the most truly serious — not solemn — book I’ve read by a Canadian in years: necessary, unpedantically erudite, unseduced by its own potential to be charming … The reader’s sense of Aquin is forced to fluctuate, revise itself, and finally integrate absolutely opposite opinions, judgements and loyalties — an achievement that seems to me virtually unique in modern biography since The Quest for Corvo. You don’t know me, but it is not my practice to say such things. A Moby Dick of a book, HA! will not be forgotten in a lifetime. Magnificent!”