Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Read an Excerpt from Jean Marc Ah-Sen's Grand Menteur

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Need a good read? We're excited to present an exclusive excerpt from Jean Marc Ah-Sen's Grand Menteur, courtesy of BookThug, right here for your reading pleasure.

Dip into the world of Mauritian street gangs, a world of danger and intrigue in which the titular Grand Menteur operates. Tasked with constructing alibis and confusing the police, the Menteur is an accomplished liar, but his perfect control is challenged when his daughter is drawn into his criminal world.

This debut novel is not to be missed, so don't miss the chance to sample it below.

Excerpt from Grand Menteur:

The auguries of Malbar’s bibulous prophesying arrived in the summer of 1958 with the force of Edison’s collapsing elephant, courtesy of an elaborately folded spheroid document tessellated with triangles and looking like a paper meteorite. I can only imagine — one is left little alternative with a pretender — my father’s mental state when, clasped between his fingers of almost uniform length, flapped the monograph on which rested the source of his newfound apprehension.

The literature contained within the so-called Sous-Futura sent my father into a paranoid tailspin, doomed him to repeat past glories and maraud through a catalogue of memories in which he shared centre stage with famous Mauritian vandals. His adventures effectively ended, while the feats of derring-do folded in upon themselves like a Casela turtle guarding itself against mounting riders. He became obsessed instead with Sous protocol, engaging with it almost in an academic sense, detached and no longer applying its tenets to the thick of the shit of actual criminal enterprise. Even his charity work did not escape an early demise.

Most dramatically, it led to an exit from the island that he had called home for thirty-odd years. And while I recall very little from our tumultuous departure — a slew of boats, planes, way stations, and a ham-fisted pledge to a judge — I do recall that something had taken root in Serge’s mind with a hitherto unknown fervency. No longer willing to engage himself in questionable behaviours, he instead began to recount the incidents of his youth, to me and to others alike, hoping to augment his stature in the eyes of the vaguely interested: how he, for example, once provided the voice of Doctor Koma on the banned wartime radio-serial “Narcoleptic Jenny” — whose shrill voice was heard echoing the lines at points of acute irritation, “Courts, sports, and genital warts! It’s all gone to pieces!” — proved a noteworthy favourite among his new European neighbours in the early sixties, after he had made England our home for a few months.

Of course, a voice of contradiction scarcely existed for this well-heeled English audience — I couldn’t say otherwise, remembering very little from my time in the country of my birth, cruel circumstance having cheated me of my birthright. Mauritius remained for them a locale of charming primitivism, Edenic by nature and uniquely out of reach. The array of well-wishers (most of whom were women that worked for the civil service, and who Sergent obsequiously courted in order to secure connections to gainful employment, improve my educational standing, and perhaps even provide me with a maternal influence), forced to endure the harsh scintillations of detail, found his pouring of a quart of milk down the small of his back to alleviate certain intolerable discomforts in poor and discreditable taste, however, and the dissonance of clinking glasses soon enlivened their disapproval. These missteps alienated my father’s new associates, and he found himself more at home with Britain’s own disenfranchised populace, its underclass helping the world turn from the shadows. An inspired storyteller is one thing, but the upper crust of society will not endure chicanery when they have nothing to gain from it.

One of those gaudy public showcases must have shaken me out of whatever childhood torpor I had been in and turned me on to the exact nature of my father’s delicate psychic imbalance. His “condition” worsened, and it suddenly alarmed me that my father actually appeared incapable of commenting on new experiences because he became unwilling to put himself into new situations, beyond going to work anyway; his world was populated with episodes from the past, but no present could render the same service to the future. I wanted to know why he had uprooted us to go to a strange and unfamiliar country, why his mien took on the colour of the downcast penitent. Here in Brixton, he had no real possessions, preferring instead to live out of a Wheary wardrobe, a lifestyle which I had never been asked or consulted about how I felt on the matter, and being a far cry from the standard set in Port Louis. Why did we live this way? To go on his word on this matter was an exercise in vulgarity. Yet it was not uncommon for me to pursue an answer that seemed to lie with the unmentionable Futura:

“Where is the document? I wish to see it for myself.”

“The document, as you call it,” his common answer being, “has been destroyed.”

“At least tell me what the final pages said.”

“There are certain things a man hopes never to see, the decline of his triumphs chief among them.”

Sensing his irritation, I would press on.

“Where did it come from?”

“From where does fate deal its deathblow? It does not matter — the damage is done.”

“Malbar. He was trying to humiliate you. He was never a friend of yours.”

“Old Faithful? He received the same document, but concerning him.”

“Or someone is playing games with your lives,” I suggested. “A common enemy. Or you both had the same idea at the same time for each other. Perhaps there was no document to begin with.”

“You give us too much credit.”

“Tell me the truth about what has gone on between you two. Why did bring us here to this hateful country? Think!”

After an agonizing period of introspection, which I would often mistake for the end of our discussion, my father would resume, on occasion many hours later, with small, almost unnoticeable explanations, such as,

“There is nothing to tell. I was a criminal one day, a citizen the next, just as he was once an officer.”

“Evasion is your strong point.”

“It should be yours. I could help.”

I could have gone along with our peregrine unsettlements at first, but I needed a reason to go on. With my father’s revelation of the existence of the Futura, I now needed to know if he knew about my mother’s illness years before her symptoms first surfaced, and if the Futura could have allowed for time I could have made use of had he not squandered it. This was paramount and trumped any concern of where I fit in Serge’s life, outside of a gangly-limbed inconvenience.

“Let me speak to Malbar.”

“You are like an ant in an elephant’s ear, pestering me unceasingly.”

“The problem isn’t that you are lying, but that you aren’t saying anything at all. Subtle difference.”

“You think I obscure the truth. But what I do is arrange reality in doses that are manageable. And I have learned to live with disappointment. You will learn to do the same.”

“That is what you call manageable.”

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