Photographer, poet, musician and author Mark Lavorato launches his third novel, Serafim and Claire, this week at Drawn & Quarterly. Travelling to Portugal, Paris, and back to Montreal for research, Lavorato brings the Roaring 20’s to the story of Serafim, a photographer, and Claire, a dancer.
According to Lavorato, “The novel focuses on two art forms, both of which are in a state of flux. The first is photography. The technology to take quick snapshots of almost anything had just come onto the market, and, believe it or not, journalism had not warmed to the idea. In fact no one had, except for a small vanguard of photographers who could foresee the potential of the medium. Dance, as opposed to photography, was in its heyday in Montreal in the 1920s. Every public venue that you could possibly imagine (from vaudeville to revues, burlesque, even nickelodeon theatres) would feature a dance act at some point throughout. Musical theatre in the city was flourishing like it never had before. But, because of the ugly hand of censorship, that was about to change.”
As historical fiction, the novel also draws from Montreal’s political scene in the 20’s, so that Serafim, an immigrant from Portugal, and Claire, a Catholic-raised, francophone Quebecois, come together as artists and lovers under some heated circumstances.
“They both reel against the English elite of their time,” says Lavorato, “and they do it on their own, as well as together. That said, Serafim does represent some of the realities of immigrants coming to make their home in Quebec even today. Because he speaks something other than the language of commerce and political power (which in the 1920s was English), he is to a degree marginalized, and quite naturally chooses to live in a poor neighbourhood where there are others like him, living as cheaply as he can while trying to figure out how to navigate tensions and systems that aren’t exactly friendly to strangers.”
Here’s an introduction to Claire’s struggle, from the first chapter:
“The doctor let out a sigh, opened the bottle, and poured a cloyingly sweet liquid onto a square of gauze. He placed it over her mouth, where the tincture clung cold against her lips. Claire stared at the light bulb above her. A faint buzzing in her head began to grow louder, distending, lifting her, as if she were as weightless as the light in the bulb. Then darkness encroached, shadows tightening along the periphery of her vision, a blackness engulfing everything. Until only the bulb was left fighting it, stark and strident, a tiny coil of wire holding tight to its own heat, its light still managing to burn through the black, even through her eyelids. The light was hers now. The light was her. In the way it had always been. All her life. And she could feel it, still, burning in, searing through the dark.”
Mark Lavorato launches Serafim and Claire, Friday, February 7th, 7:00 PM, at Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard Ouest). Free admission.