"There are no 'empty' words in literature; there is no writing without reason." Graduating with an MA in French this June, Laurence Gavreau Sinotte wrote her thesis on Québécois writer, Nelly Arcan.


Life through Autofiction: French MA Graduate, Laurence Gavreau Sinotte, on Québécois Novelist Nelly Arcan

June 10, 2015

Laurence Gauvreau Sinotte came to SFU’s Department of French after completing a BA in French Literature at University of Montreal in 2013.  With her sight set on working with Dr. Jorge Calderón, Associate Professor of literature and culture at SFU, Sinotte was interested in writing about Québécois writer, Nelly Arcan. Arcan became an established literary star in Quebec and France after her semi-autobiographical first and second novels, Putain (2001; English: Whore, 2004) and Folle (2004; English: Hysteric, 2014) were nominated for prestigious French literary awards like the Prix Médici and the Prix Fémina. Arcan was also known for her striking beauty and her tragic suicide in 2009 further immortalized her literary stardom. She had just finished writing her last book Paradis, Clef en main (2009; English: Exit, 2011), a futuristic book set in Montreal where the narrator, Antoinette Beauchamp, a women left bedridden and paraplegic following a failed suicide attempt by guillotine.  

Nelly Arcan during an interview with Radio Canada, 2007.

Sinotte focused her thesis on Putain and Folle and explains that she was initially interested in studying Arcan’s because she felt touched by the writing: “Arcan’s writing is very factual; it takes place in Montreal (my hometown) and I admire the courage she had to talk about her past and about certain issues of our society (beauty, plastic surgery, prostitution, religion). I also simply liked her written style. She is cynical, and uses a lot of a black humor and images when she writes.” Also drawn to the philosophical facets of the writing, Sinotte wanted to explore the ways the author mediated her self-representation through the art of autofiction (autobiographical fiction).

Sinotte’s thesis examined the way the narrator’s constructed speech and dialogue reflected the contradictory ways the author saw herself:  “The narrator seems to be trapped between two kinds of speech: speech about who she really is (the autobiographical part of her writing) and speech about who she wants to be and wants to project to people around her (the fictional part). Society makes it even harder for her to accomplish her goals (and show the real 'her') because it so strongly influences her to follow certain criteria to be accepted, to be considered normal and beautiful. On top of that, the narrator (living and evolving in that society) ends up mixing those two kinds of language; it becomes difficult for her to determine which parts of her personality are real and which parts are acted. The performance of everyday life becomes a part of her and of who she really is.” 

Sinotte says studying literature is important, that literature is something unique to human innovation: “Firstly, a book is a text that has been worked on; every word has been carefully picked to represent and communicate something precise and meaningful. There are no 'empty' words in literature; there is no writing without reason. Everything has been thought and put in place to create an image or a message. I think oral communication has a lot to learn from literature and studying it can help to organize ideas, choosing precise vocabulary to express ourselves…Secondly, studying literature is a great way to take the time to understand people, eras and cultures.”

Since finishing her degree, Sinotte wants to teach French language and literature at the post-secondary level and has already begun teaching French literature and language at Éducacentre College, a francophone college in Vancouver.