Recipe for a Harlequin Romance

Anson Ching

At the 221 Vancouver Writer’s Festival, André Alexis revealed that he’s re-editing his famed five-book quincunx, a sequence that contains some of his best-loved novels, including Fifteen Dogs and Days by Moonlight. Alexis was there to talk about his latest novel, Ring (Coach House), the final book in that quincunx, and about the jest that it was. He’d written Ring with formulaic precision, he boasted, and had slogged his way through many Harlequin romances to find the recipe. Hearing him speak about his novel in this way consoled me, for I’d been ambivalent after finishing the book. Ring is a love story deconstructed by an author whose heart is set on philosophy, whose main game is to question the nature of things, not tug at heartstrings. Despite going through all the motions of a Harlequin romance, the two main characters, Gwen and Tancred, come to revolve around each other not as marionettes, but through a wish-granting magical device and a touch of pragmatic and self-aware reasoning. I kept thinking about all the opportunities Alexis had missed with his love-granting magic ring, only to remind myself that, just as Alexis is not the kind of person to write simple romantic fairy tales, by his own admission, he had not been a dog person when he set out to write Fifteen Dogs. I might say the story is enjoyable if you come to the table with checked expectations, but there’s one more thing that requires squaring: I found the prose unfamiliar. In Ring, Alexis doesn’t seem to be as interested in using his usual arsenal of wit, irony and situational humour, but instead, has taken more to putting together a recipe based on precise weights and measures.

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