Over the next few weeks, we are very excited to introduce some of our alumni who are making waves in the world of writing. Stay tuned to learn about some budding (or established!) authors who launched their writing careers with their Arts education.
With files from Thea Bowering and NeWest Press.
Thea Bowering (’07 MA, Comparative Literature) grew up in Vancouver, spent part of her undergraduate time in Denmark and came to Edmonton in 2001 to pursue a master’s degree in the areas of contemporary Canadian and Danish literature. At that time, the U of A was the only university in Canada to offer courses on Danish language and literature. Her thesis was a study of avant-garde fiction that featured the figure of the female flâneur: the rebellious, wandering, urban woman.
Thea’s study inspired her first collection of fiction, which is characterized by the solitary urban observer. The stories in Love at Last Sight (NeWest Press, 2013), set in Edmonton, Vancouver and parts of Europe, play with various genres and mediums including spy fiction, French cinema, the Russian novel and Shakespeare. Love and loss are the driving universal themes, but the stories also delve into contemporary concerns such as the technologization of culture, and the new class of the educated poor and memory troubled by swiftly changing urban landscapes. Love at Last Sight was longlisted for an Alberta Readers’ Choice Award and won Alberta’s Trade Fiction Award in 2013.
Currently, Bowering is working on a novel about a young woman who finds a tarot card with a mysterious note written across the back in her mother’s hand. This sets into motion the daughter’s quest to understand the note’s meaning, and leads her to old letters, diaries, the re-reading of her father’s early works and conversations with her mother’s ghost that help her understand what it was like for a woman to be both muse and outsider to the avant-garde communities of that time.
Read an excerpt from Love at Last Sight:
Imagine a young man at a party—a party that’s like a movie full of A-list actors but, somehow, still really dull. Imagine as you go for your coat, this young man cocks you a smile, passes you a bottle of French beer, and asks if you’ve ever read Bulgakov. This is what happened to me. And not so long ago, either. Even worse, imagine he’s a musician who’s quickly pegged you as a student of literature. This is why Bulgakov is swiftly inserted into the conversation you find occurring while you lean, half out of necessity, against the hideous rec-room bar in a city which, you’ve come to realize, is nothing like Moscow. Or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter. Bulgakov, the young man insists, is what distinguishes him from all the shotgun drinkers there. Ha ha ha! you will laugh ruefully to yourself. But really, are you any better? You must admit, his introduction allows for a rare opportunity to reminisce aloud about your trip to Russia three summers ago, before you moved to this god-forsaken dustbowl. You feel momentarily glamourous recounting the interior of the Kirov Ballet as you sweep your arm and quote a tourist brochure from memory: how, if you stood in front of every painting in the Hermitage for 30 seconds, it would take you 80 years to see everything. Or is it 80 seconds and 30 years? You can’t remember.
So relax, don’t be so suspicious. Enjoy spending an evening with a guy who just likes to read a Russian novel from time to time because he thinks they’re hilarious.
At any rate, he is a guitar player who reads! So why not, what could be better: you are at school. School bores you. Besides, your last boyfriend had not really read books, and only seemed like a character in a Russian novel. Several people, one was your mother, said he bore a striking resemblance to Raskolnikov—tall, dark and gloomy, eyes flashing blue torment, a tattered overcoat. You’d hoped the likeness ended there, but found out, soon enough, that this was not the case. He was a shit, just like Raskolnikov. Axed your heart right in two. To be fair, this was partly your own fault. You’ve always been attracted to men who look like they’ve just turned the corner out of some tragic nineteenth-century novel. Who evoke the devastating climactic scene from such a novel just by walking down the street. But at home: Raskolnikov, who makes a great tiramisu; Raskolnikov, who sorts the laundry while you sit down to write yet another English paper on Timothy Findley. If translated novels were allowed in English classes, you might at least have been prepared—known how many crimes and punishments would be involved.
So relax, don’t be so suspicious. Enjoy spending an evening with a guy who just likes to read a Russian novel from time to time because he thinks they’re hilarious. Russian novels are hilarious, you find out in post-graduate life. You had no idea, too distracted at university reading Pride and Prejudice for the third or fourth time. However, when you do finally get to Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, the opening is a revelation. Are there not moments in every person’s life where one’s experience of a thing separates it completely from how one has been taught to think about it? This was such a time, and though you know Dostoevsky is a writer of somber political and spiritual conviction, like they tell you, and though it’s well known that he depicts bitter times for the individual at the mercy of the state, you cannot help but hear Woody Allen when the Underground Man says, “I am a sick man…. I am a spiteful man. I am a most unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased. Then again, I don’t know a thing about my illness. I’m not even sure what hurts.” Another example: Geoffrey Chaucer. To your surprise, you find there’s nothing highbrow about Chaucer at all; it’s all jokes about bums stuck in windows and your wife doing it with your neighbour or the baker. Fourteenth century smut, pure and simple. It takes a lot more studying to find out gentlemen like Darcy don’t really exist. If university reading is supposed to prepare you for life, they should have a course called “The Best-Loved Books of Boys to Avoid.” The top three authors on the syllabus would be Georges Bataille, Charles Bukowski, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Originally published as “How To Read Your Lover’s Favourite Russian Novel” from Love at Last Sight (2013) by Thea Bowering, pp. 57-60. Reprinted by permission of NeWest Publishers, Ltd.