I’m at Kingdom, corner of Saint-Laurent and Sainte-Catherine. Mindy and Trevor examine my body with their sticky hands. Nikky is beautiful. More beautiful than me. More fluid than me. I’m always falling down. I close my eyes, I open my eyes. It is June 6, 2012. I’m at the Notre-Dame Hospital. The doctors tell me I have a cloud tumour in my brain stem.
On June 6, 2012, Vickie Gendreau was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In between treatments, between hospital stays and her “room of her own,” she wrote Testament, an autofictional novel in which she imagines her death and at the same time, bequeaths to her friends and family both the fragmented story of her last year and the stories of the loved ones who keep her memory alive, in language as raw and flamboyant as she was.
In the teasing and passionate voice of a twenty-three-year-old writer, inspired as much by literature as by YouTube and underground music, Gendreau’s sense of image, her relentless self-deprecation, and the true emotion in every sentence add up to an uncompromising work that reflects the life of a young woman who lived without inhibitions, for whom literature meant everything right up until the end.
In this way, Testament (translated by talented writer and translator Aimee Wall), inverts the elegiac, “grief memoir” form and plays with the notion of a last testament, thereby beating any would-be eulogists to the punch.
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Praise for Testament:
“This novel… was felt like a literary tsunami, with the cries of her prose and the intrinsic qualities of her writing.” —Jean-François Crépeau, Le Canada français
“Testament’s fragmented texts alternate between the narrator’s private journal and the voices of her friends as they receive her posthumous writing. It is an uncompromising experience, brutal when you least expect it.” —Chantal Guy, La Presse
“There is, in Testament, a voice, an energy, a style. Vickie Gendreau was a real talent as a writer. It won’t please everyone, but it’s undeniable. Yes, it’s a cry, sometimes harsh, sometimes confused, it is gut-wrenching and, surprise, is also shot through with touches of humour.” —Jean-Yves Girard, Chatelaine
Read an excerpt from Testament —Quebec Reads
“In addition to the confronting her own imminent mortality, Gendreau takes determined ownership of her legacy.” —Steven W. Beattie, Quill and Quire
“The journey through the end of Gendreau’s life and beyond remains delicate, introspective, and wholly unusual. It is a literary trip worth taking.” —Publishers Weekly
“English readers will encounter a translation that faithfully captures Gendreau’s slangy French, and they might note its parallels with works by Sheila Heti or Kathy Acker because of its defiance of a patriarchal literary world, of the so-called rules of self-representation, of what constitutes “women’s writing.” Testament blurs fact and fiction, defying not just how life should be portrayed, but death, too. Don’t be reverent. And don’t pretend that this isn’t a world where “A girl’s skin is being bruised by a man in a van / somewhere.”” —Jocelyn Parr, Montreal Review of Books
“This book is testament to a remarkable final year.” —Atlantic Books Today
“About leaving something behind which does not end with a period —” —Buried in Print
“Vickie Gendreau’s auto fictional novel Testament is an intimate and emotional read.” —Exeter Examiner
“Thanks in no small part to Wall’s flawless translation, Testament is one of the most original and exciting novels from Quebec I’ve read in a good while… this is narrative as a performance. And what a performance.” —Peter McCambridge, Quebecreads
“Like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, another recent Canadian auto-fiction, Gendreau’s Testament makes space for female experience through formal experimentation. The challenging form works in tandem with agonizing descriptions of Gendreau’s failing body to resist stereotypes of female quaintness or docility… Aimee Wall, one of Quebec’s most exciting emerging translators, has done a superb job in rendering a novel that is peppered with oblique references and inside jokes, and penned, moreover, in an idiosyncratic mixture of French and English.” —Myra Bloom, Canadian Literature
10 Books in Translation to Read this Fall —49th Shelf
Read This, Then That: Fearless Women (in Translation) —All Lit Up
Vickie Gendreau was born in Montréal in 1989. While working in Montréal strip clubs from October 2009 to June 2012, she was also active in the literary community, where she participated in events like the Off-Festival de poésie de Trois-Rivières. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2012, and passed away a year later. Her first novel, Testament, written after her diagnosis, was published in the fall of 2012 and was longlisted for the 2013 Prix littéraire France-Québec. Her second novel, Drama Queens, was published in 2014.
Newfoundland-native Aimee Wall is a writer and translator. Her essays, short fiction, criticism, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including Maisonneuve, Matrix Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and Lemon Hound. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Translation Studies from Concordia University. She lives in Montréal.