Quebec author Kevin Lambert in contention for prestigious Prix Goncourt award

MONTREAL — Quebec author Kevin Lambert is in the running for the prestigious Prix Goncourt for his latest novel, "Que notre joie demeure."

In a phone interview, the Saguenay, Que., author said the news Tuesday of his nomination for the French literary award had brought him "a lot of joy and a kind of vertigo."

"The telephone hasn't stopped (ringing), I wasn't expecting that," he said.

Lambert's novel is on a first list of 16 contenders for the prize. The list will be shortened to eight and then four titles before the prize is awarded in November.

Published last year, "Que notre joie demeure" includes detailed discussions on architecture and centres on the excesses of the ruling class and gentrification in Montreal. Lambert believes the book's main draw is its willingness to tackle political questions, but he's pleased the nomination also recognizes his writing style.

"The heart of my work as an artist is not just to talk about certain issues, but to talk about them in a certain way," he said. "I think these prizes are also interested in the question of style and how things are written."

Even if he addresses social issues head-on, he said he tries to maintain a certain ambiguity in his writing "by producing a literary work that is complex, that doesn't give its message too easily or too clearly."

The arts, he added, "need a certain opacity to be interesting."

The novel, which is also nominated for another French award, the Prix Décembre, is Lambert's third, after "Tu aimeras ce que tu as tué" (published in English as "'You Will Love What You Have Killed") and "Querelle de Roberval."

The book gained greater attention in recent months after it sparked an online quarrel between the author and Quebec Premier François Legault.

Legault published a short review praising the book on social media but was rebuked by Lambert, who accused him of failing to understand the novel's message.

"Mr. Legault, in the midst of a housing crisis, when your government is working to undermine the last ramparts protecting us from extreme gentrification in Montreal, putting my book forward is pathetic," Lambert wrote in the July exchange.

Legault responded that he is an avid reader who likes to share his views on what he has read. "I try to help Quebec authors," he told reporters. "Now, if there are some who don't like that, that's their choice."

When asked Tuesday about the possibility of his books being used for political ends, Lambert said he believed that's what happened with the premier.

"That's why I wanted to reply," he said. "I didn't want my book to be used to give them a good conscience, a good look," he said.

The controversy didn't hurt his book sales, which went up after the online encounter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

Vicky Fragasso-Marquis, The Canadian Press