Emily St. John Mandel

St. John's my middle name. The books go under M.

Oct 7
The railing of the hotel balcony in Pau. I was on the train from Paris to Pau with my French editor when he received the email that I’d accepted his offer for Station Eleven. He showed me the email, which I looked at but couldn’t really read. (“Re: STATION ELEVEN de Emily St-John Mandel.”) “We are very happy,” his colleague said. “I’m happy too,” I said, because I’ve come to believe that being published by Payot/Rivages in France is one of the best things that can happen to a person, publishing-wise.

Later, two days of the wonderful Un Aller-Retour dans le Noir festival in Pau. I mostly stood or sat behind a table with my first two novels stacked in front of me. I struggled to speak with people in my broken French, they struggled in their broken English, we smiled at one another when words failed and every so often a translator swept in and saved us. One and only one person was unpleasant about it. “You should really speak French,” he said.

I thought, you should really refrain from telling strangers what to do, but said “I’m working on it,” instead. Still, a cold stab of disappointment. He was the first person who’d been unkind.

He picked up my first novel, which was published in English as Last Night in Montreal. “I am from Montreal,” he said.

Of course you are, I thought. People from France, in my experience, don’t behave this way about language. “You know the city?” he asked.

"Yes, I used to live there," I said. I didn’t add "and I left because of people like you." He considered the book for a moment, asked where in Canada I was from, didn’t understand me when I said British Columbia but did understand Columbie-Britannique. He considered the book some more. I’ve occasionally been criticized by Quebecois critics for my portrayal of the city in Last Night in Montreal, but the book is true to my experience there. I lived in a city where I was hated for speaking the wrong language, and that’s the city I wrote about. The book is dark and deeply critical of the city. I didn’t tell him this.

He decided to buy it. “Would you inscribe it to my niece,” he said, and gave me her name, “and write ‘to remember Montreal.’”

"With pleasure," I said.

The railing of the hotel balcony in Pau. I was on the train from Paris to Pau with my French editor when he received the email that I’d accepted his offer for Station Eleven. He showed me the email, which I looked at but couldn’t really read. (“Re: STATION ELEVEN de Emily St-John Mandel.”) “We are very happy,” his colleague said. “I’m happy too,” I said, because I’ve come to believe that being published by Payot/Rivages in France is one of the best things that can happen to a person, publishing-wise.

Later, two days of the wonderful Un Aller-Retour dans le Noir festival in Pau. I mostly stood or sat behind a table with my first two novels stacked in front of me. I struggled to speak with people in my broken French, they struggled in their broken English, we smiled at one another when words failed and every so often a translator swept in and saved us. One and only one person was unpleasant about it. “You should really speak French,” he said.

I thought, you should really refrain from telling strangers what to do, but said “I’m working on it,” instead. Still, a cold stab of disappointment. He was the first person who’d been unkind.

He picked up my first novel, which was published in English as Last Night in Montreal. “I am from Montreal,” he said.

Of course you are, I thought. People from France, in my experience, don’t behave this way about language. “You know the city?” he asked.

"Yes, I used to live there," I said. I didn’t add "and I left because of people like you." He considered the book for a moment, asked where in Canada I was from, didn’t understand me when I said British Columbia but did understand Columbie-Britannique. He considered the book some more. I’ve occasionally been criticized by Quebecois critics for my portrayal of the city in Last Night in Montreal, but the book is true to my experience there. I lived in a city where I was hated for speaking the wrong language, and that’s the city I wrote about. The book is dark and deeply critical of the city. I didn’t tell him this.

He decided to buy it. “Would you inscribe it to my niece,” he said, and gave me her name, “and write ‘to remember Montreal.’”

"With pleasure," I said.


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