Sweet Poison

About the Book

Sweet Poison Cogito, 2020

The rise and fall of a bourgeois family: such is the theme of this novel, harsh, moving, and tumultuous, which in 1969 affirmed the full development of the young Quebec novel. Pierre, the narrator, is confronted very early on with love, violence, and quarrels over a story of heritage. Like his father Édouard, he will experience the collapse of bourgeois values, the worst uncertainties and will finally assert his independence from this tormented world. Pierre’s confession is poignant. It reveals an original talent, vigorous and of a rare psychological depth.

Sweet Poison

A Novel
by Pierre Turgeon

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I don’t know when this Norman, whose blood still flows in me, embarked for New France, but the stubborn forehead, the narrow, hard eyes, and the thick neck of my grandfather embody well enough this type of conqueror who was unaware of the greatness of his task, seeing it as a means of getting rich. Vincent married the daughter of a washerwoman out of interest: nervous, whimsical, and a spendthrift, her name was Suzanne. A common love of lucre and the children who were born continuously for ten years or so gave an appearance of solidity to this union of quarrels and deceptions.

At six o’clock every morning, my grandmother piled up in her tumbler the filthy, muddy, greasy linen, not to be taken with tweezers; she opened the steam pipes for the ironing presses, labeled the clothes washed the day before. At seven o’clock, the workers entered the soot-black building where they would work without respite, in unbearable heat, among the panting of the machines and the acid smell of detergents. These girls lived in Saint-Malo, the poor neighborhood of Quebec City; without education, diplomas, or beauty, they lived in terror of Suzanne, virago who knew the fornications of each one and did not hesitate in front of any blackmail if they did not clean the minimum number of shirts indicated on a leather cardboard poster, a number which varied according to the affluence of the customers and the mood of my grandmother.

By dint of quibbling, gesticulating, and scheming, my grandmother saw her business grow, branches and delivery trucks multiply. But, despite her fortune, she could not interfere in the upper-class circles, who considered her an upstart, a worker intoxicated by rapid success. I knew those big houses with gables, with dormer windows, where the voice is muffled between thick walls, in rooms where only a sickly light filters through the Flemish blinds and damasked curtains; houses where lived those chattering, those do-gooders, those emery-covered butchers, that aristocracy of Quebec City: notaries, doctors, lawyers, all good apostles who sleepwalked their way through life, who preached submission to the occupant, who stank of encaustic, mothballs and confessionals; I knew them well enough to …

PIERRE TURGEON

Born in Quebec, October 9, 1947 – The novelist and essayist Pierre Turgeon obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1967. In 1969, at the age of twenty-two, already a journalist at Perspectives and literary critic at Radio-Canada, Pierre Turgeon creates the literary review L’Illettré with Victor-Lévy Beaulieu. The same year, he published his first novel, Sweet Poison. Several works followed 22 titles in total: novels, essays, plays, film scripts, and historical works. These include The First Person and The Radissonie, both of which win the Governor General’s Award for novel and essay respectively.

In 1975, he founded the Quinze publishing house, which he chaired until 1978. There he published numerous authors, including Marie-Claire Blais, Gérard Bessette, Jacques Godbout, Yves Thériault, Jacques Hébert, and Hubert Aquin, before becoming deputy director of the Presses of the University of Montreal (PUM) in 1978. Then, from 1979 to 1982, he directed the editions of the Sogides group, the most important French-language publisher in America. (Les Éditions de l’Homme, Le Jour, Les Quinze). He also publishes software, launching one of the first French text editors (Ultratexte) and the first French spell-checking program (Hugo). Editor-in-chief of the literary review Liberté from 1987 to 1998, he edited controversial issues on the October Crisis and the Oka Crisis, as well as on various political and cultural subjects.

In 1999, he created Trait d’union, a publishing house devoted to poetry, essays, and celebrity biographies, works signed among others by René Lévesque, Pierre Godin, Micheline Lachance, Margaret Atwood. He is the only Canadian publisher to have seen one of his books, a biography of Michael Jackson : Unmasked, reach number one on the New York Times bestseller list. In the meantime, the author continues to be prolific, and in 2000, he published a history of Canada, in collaboration with Don Gilmor, that won the Ex-Libris prize, awarded by the Association of Canadian Booksellers with the mention of Best History of Canada to date.

Today, he is working on the creation of a publishing site entirely devoted to the distribution of English and French eBooks: Cogito, which will go live in early 2021.

Pierre Turgeon makes a stunning entrance into our literature. There are few writers from here who could not envy him his extraordinary mastery of the art of writing. Language more than correct, very rich vocabulary, sober and clear style, the finesse of psychological observation, variety and fantasy of imagination, depth of vision of the world. Turgeon has all these qualities and more. We should pay him a life annuity and condemn him to write for as long as possible. – Réginald Martel, La Presse.

Pierre Turgeon succeeds in this tour de force of telling us the life of his procreators by very skillfully dosing the daily and the significant so that there is nothing to cross out in it, nothing overloaded, nothing false. – André Major, Le Devoir