31 May 2020

Where is that salesgirl?

Coles, Midtown, Saskatoon, 1970
Still looking for the Coles Notes to Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street.

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25 May 2020

Covering Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine

I've been receiving compliments about the cover of the new Ricochet Books reissue of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine. Praise properly belongs to J.W. Stewart and an unknown artist.

The Ricochet series has always featured artwork from vintage covers. With The Ravine, there were several to chose from. The earliest, W.H. Allen's 1962 first edition, bought sight unseen from an Australian bookseller, was the worst. This surprised me because the cover of Young's Undine (1964), also published by W.H. Allen, ranks as an all-time favourite.

Well before the decision about the cover was made, I invited Amy Lavender Harris to write the introduction. By chance, she mentioned that she had a copy of the 1962 Longmans first Canadian edition. I'd never seen a copy. Amy has kindly shared this image:

Like the W.H. Allen, I never considered Longmans Canada's cover a contender, though I was tempted by Mein Mörder kommt um 8, the 1966 German translation.

The cover of Assault, the tie-in to the 1971 screen adaptation, was not considered.

The cover I most favoured was the first paperback edition, published in 1964 by Pan. The problem was that we had no copy and not one was listed for sale online (which is still the case). All we had to go by was a small image of a faded, battered, and stained copy.

J.W. Stewart not only restored the image, he replaced "Kendal Young" with the author's real name; something we and the estate preferred.

The question remains as to the identity of the original artist. My money is on Pat Owens. I think that's his signature in the bottom right hand corner.

The Ravine is certainly similar in style to some of the covers Owen is known to have done for for Pan, most strikingly Charity Blackstock's The Woman in the Woods (1961) and Morris West's Daughter of Silence (1963).

Sadly, they don't make 'em like that anymore.

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20 May 2020

Phyllis Brett Young's Ricochet

Copies of Phyllis Brett Young's The Ravine, the latest Ricochet Book, were delivered yesterday. I see their arrival as another sign of spring.

Number fifteen in the series, The Ravine has had an unusual history. It was first published by W.H. Allen in 1962 under the name "Kendal Young," and yet the author's true identity was exposed in an advert on the rear dust jacket.

Sadly, Psyche never made it to celluloid. The Ravine did appear on the screen – adapted bowdlerized and bastardized as Assault (1971) – but it isn't worth your time.

The Ravine is.

I knew nothing of Phyllis Brett Young until 2007, when McGill-Queen's University Press revived her 1960 novel The Torontonians. The next year, it brought back, Young's Psyche (1959).

This new edition of The Ravine joins MQUP's reissues in shining light on a writer to be celebrated.

As Ricochet Books' Series Editor, my thanks go out to Valerie Argue, Phyllis Brett Young's daughter, who granted permission for its reissue. I thank Amy Lavender Harris for providing a very fine introduction.

The first new edition in forty-nine years, it's long overdue.

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07 May 2020

Not to Be Confused with Jesus of Montreal

Josie of Montreal
Florian Delorme
Montreal: Bodero Editions, [1969?]
126 pages

Porn seemed to be everywhere when I was a child. It was sold at the bookstore in the Beaconsfield Shopping Centre and at Gerard's, the local bakery at which my mother bought our pumpernickel. The United Cigar Store in the Fairview Mall displayed Beeline paperbacks right next to the latest issues of MAD, Cracked, and Crazy. As a nine-year-old, I couldn't help but notice.

Published by Beeline in 1972, Back-Door Swappers had appeared previously under the title Once Upon an Orgy. It would later be repackaged as Best Laid Friends and Thrills with Lil. The history of Josie of Montreal isn't nearly so well documented. I'm afraid I won't be able to add much, though I can ward off a misconception that might arise from its cover.

Florian Delorme had nothing to do with Après-ski, which was published in 1966 by Montreal's Éditions du Belier and was written by Philippe Blanchont. It's back cover provides this bold description:
Un roman basé sur les faits authentiques de la liberté sexuelle qui se déroufe sous prétexte dans nos centres de villéglalure canadiens. Pour la prémiere fois un écrivain à la courage de donner a la littérature canadienne française un exposé, qui, sans doute, consternera les derniers vestiges de notre société purîtane.

Because I haven't read Après-ski, I can't speak to the veracity of the publisher's claims. And yet even before reading Josie of Montreal, I knew its cover copy to be a lie:

Josie of Montreal was not a runaway best seller. My copy, in which this claim is made, is the first and only edition. An uncommon book, it's held by Library and Archives Canada, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the University of Alberta, and Simon Fraser University. All of two copies are currently listed for sale online.

It took some time to get through Josie of Montreal. The novel is a difficult read, not because it challenges – as, say, Nabokov's The Gift or Tull's Untitled – but because incest and paedophilia feature. I won't argue with anyone who suggests necrophilia plays a part.

You may not wish to read further.

The titular character is a fifteen-year-old orphan who lives with Joseph, her sexagenarian grandfather, in Plateau-Mont-Royal. Joseph lusts after Josie, and keeps a poster-size photograph of her, in bikini, on his bedroom wall. Josie teases by trying to slip him the tongue with each goodnight kiss, and asking questions about sex:
"Grandpa, what does it mean, sixty-nine? The other girls talk about it and they laugh. I don't know what is it but I laugh. I'd like to know, just in case. Suppose they ask me to explain what it is... I feel stupid."
Joseph believes his granddaughter an innocent, when in fact she's been sexually active since the age of twelve. The novel's first sex scene involves Jeanne, a classmate who misses the genitive pleasures she once received from her mother. Laurent, Robert, and Pierrot get together with Josie on a daily basis, each taking his turn as Jacques pleasures himself with her discarded panties.

Of course, there's much more sex, as one might expect in a 126-page novel. In this scene, Josie throws herself – quite literally – at Jean, a plasterer working in Joseph's home:
The bold maneuver turned the trick and blew away the man's fears. Panting, breathing hard, he wildly plunged his hand inside the dress which fell slowly to the floor. Jean lifted Josie and he threw her on the bed.
     — Hey, get up! Josie said, giving the plasterer a feeble slap on the cheek. You'll fall asleep.
     Everything had occurred according to plan, completely, rapidly, vehemently and Jean was still dazed.
Jean is dazed. The reader is dazed. What just happened?

This later scene, in which Joseph and his friend Albert hire two teenage prostitutes during a trip to New York, is similarly vague:
Joseph and Albert undress. The girls wash them. They find it odd because they're not used to prostitutes. Funny, the girls don't act like whores. They are outspoken, gay. Alfred says he has no money, Joseph carries the dough. How much? How much do you have? Thirty dollars! That'll do. Give. Joseph gives. Tomorrow, come again? No. We're leaving town. Too bad.
     They leave the house smiling like two college boys having copulated for the first time. 
The week that Joseph spends in New York, leaving his granddaughter alone is the house, is described as the most marvellous of Josie's life. "Never had she been so free, never had she enjoyed such a sustained thrilling sex life." The adolescent love of the cover copy does not feature in the novel. Josie loves no one, and comes to hate her grandfather for being the one man she cannot seduce. After he returns, she enlists Laurent, Robert, Pierrot and Jacques in plotting his murder.

"There have been few heroines more fascinating than Josie, nor heroes more compelling than her incredibly virile 68-year old [sic] grandfather."

Sadly, this is just another publisher's lie.

A mystery: Josie of Montreal appears to be a translation of Les deniers émois, which was published in 1968 by Éditions du Belier. Or is it that Les deniers émois is a translation of Josie of Montreal? The latter has no date of publication, but it does feature this copyright notice:

Les deniers émois provides a 1968 copyright listing Éditions du Belier as its holder. While Library and Archives Canada makes no link between the two novels, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec not only records Josie of Montreal as a translation of Les deniers émois, it lists its publication date as 1969, and has it that Florian Delorme is a pseudonym.

I'm not sure I care enough to dig deeper.

Fun fact: Josie of Montreal was never adapted to the screen, but Après-ski was! I was surprised to see it included a who's who of vedettes québécoises, including the late René Angélil. Released in 1971, the film is also known as Sex on Skis, Winter Games, and Snowballin'.

Object and Access: A slim mass market paperback. The cover, every bit as accomplished as that of Après ski, is credited to Robert Hennen. The cover of Les deniers émois is credited to R. Henen. The cover illustration is signed Hénen. Take your pick.

As mentioned, two online booksellers offer copies. The cheapest, "very good plus," can be had for US$6.00. The other, "a near to perfect copy," is listed at US$85.00. You know which to buy.

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