Excerpted from On the Proper Use of Stars by Dominique Fortier Translated by Sheila Fischman. Copyright © 2010 by Dominique Fortier, Translated by Sheila Fischman. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
DOMINIQUE FORTIER was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from McGill University and is a respected editor and literary translator. On the Proper Use of Stars, her debut novel, was first published in Quebec in 2008 as Du bon usage des étoiles and was shortlisted for the French language Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault, and the Prix Senghor. It is being adapted for the screen by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria). Dominique lives in Montreal.
Sheila Fischman is the award-winning translator of some 150 contemporary novels from Quebec. In 2008 she was awarded the Molson Prize in the Arts. She is a Member of the Order of Canada and a chevalier de l'Ordre national du Québec. She lives in Montreal.
1. Many readers and reviewers have noted that On the Proper Use of Stars brings a strikingly new perspective to a story we all thought we knew. Were you familiar with the tale of the Franklin expedition before reading the novel? What is the most surprising aspect of the story as it is presented in the novel?
2. There may be more than one way to interpret the title On the Proper Use of Stars. Discuss the various possibilities and how they relate to different aspects of the novel.
3. Would you describe the novel as a love story? Why or why not?
4. What do you think are the particular attractions for an author of setting a work of fiction in the past? The particular challenges? What attracts you to such a novel?
5. On the Proper Use of Stars tells a nineteenth-century story in prose that has been called “classical.” The book as a whole, however, is not a straightforward traditional novel, but rather interweaves different narratives with images, documents, even recipes. What are the benefits of this sort of structure? The drawbacks? Are there other books, either fiction or non-fiction, that you feel have been enhanced by the juxtaposition of different kinds of texts?
6. Lady Jane Franklin is a very charismatic figure, and one with very definite opinions. Did you find her a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Discuss her approach to love, marriage, companionship, friendship.
7. How would you characterize Francis Crozier? Was he a hero? A failure? What about Sir John Franklin?
8. Ice, water, and mirrors all play key roles in the novel; discuss the various ways in which these images inflect the novel.
9. On the Proper Use of Stars is written for the most part from three alternating points of view: why do you think the author chose this particular strategy to tell the story? How do Crozier’s, Lady Jane’s, and Sophia’s different backgrounds and experiences shape their interpretation of events? In what ways does the author bring these differences to the reader’s attention.
10. On the Proper Use of Stars was originally published in Quebec in French, as Du bon usage des étoiles. Do you often read novels in translation? Do you find that fiction that was originally written in another language reads differently from that written originally in English. Are there world literatures that you especially enjoy in translation?
11. The major characters in the novel are based on historical people. How do you feel about the author’s responsibility to “reality” in a work of fiction? Are all facts open to interpretation, or are some matters more sacred than others? Does the amount of time that has passed make any difference?