Véhicule Press, 212pp
The inaugural Pyramid Scheme (see my Wales Arts Review here) was for many in Cardiff the first opportunity to sample Guillaume Morissette’s bittersweet chronicling of Québécois life for the ambiguously aged and alienated of Montreal. Morissette gave a thoroughly confident and carefully nuanced reading via Skype that belied his protagonist’s sense of dread and unease in social situations.
Set in Montreal, New Tab covers one year in the life of a disillusioned video game designer as seen through the often ambiguous lens of social media profiles, eclectic housemates and ever escalating utility bills. What is immediately clear is that Morissette has decided to write New Tab with a strict stylistic code. Those who like their writing burdened with similes, metaphors and adverbs may take some getting used to the minimalist approach, but as well as being crafted expertly, it gives the writing an excellent sense of economy and drives the novel with a strong sense of purpose from start to finish. It also enables moments representative of the kind of humour that was on display during the aforementioned Skype reading.
Around Laurier, my phone rang again. As I reached for it, I thought, ‘I have been using my phone as a phone way too much lately.’
The MDMA was making me very interested in my conversation with the driver. ‘Are you coming with us?’ the driver’s colleague asked me a few minutes later. I replied, ‘Yes,’ loudly and enthusiastically. ‘Calm down, you’re enjoying this too much,’ I thought.
There were perhaps moments where the mileage was there to take a joke or humorous situation further, but Morissette’s discipline demanded that deadpan never strayed into farce or slapstick. As the auteur this is his prerogative, and it works very well in maintaining a highly consistent tone to the book, which in turn makes for a rewarding experience for the reader. Descriptions of the outdoor cinema, and the drama that often engulfs it, transport the reader to the scene. BYOB.
‘Now since our screen probably won’t make it through another winter, I thought that tonight, as a special treat, I would put on some Vivaldi and set the frame on fire for your enjoyment.’ The audience cheered. Brent moved over to the sound system and put on The Four Seasons and began spraying lighter fluid on the screen.’
The scenes set in the video game office offer a pointed contrast to the illegal outdoor cinema and countless nights spent in bars. It is a tricky proposition: how to write about a boring and soul destroying situation without making the reader feel the same. Morissette injects humour into these scenes, but from the reader’s perspective they do have a sobering effect; whether or not this is problematic will be a matter of taste.
The various relationships that Morissette plays out in New Tab will resonate with anyone who has had to experience share-house living. The selfish, solipsistic Brent would surely be maddening to live with, and Morissette captures this well through a combination of deft descriptive prose and sharp dialogue.
I was introduced to Brent, who asked me if I was the ‘new guy’. I said yes and he replied, ‘Cool,’ in a neutral tone and then abruptly moved on to something else. Brent had excellent hair, was a natural leader, and liked to say things like, ‘I am shooting a video with this person.’
The unpaid utility bill becomes something of a motif as it first goes almost totally ignored before gradually becoming more and more of a problem, with resentment and argument following before an uneasy, and in fact hugely rewarding resolution. Fittingly, the utility bill is perhaps the only conflict in the book that is formally resolved. Morissette has succeeded in providing a tangible and authentic insight into the vagrancies of mid- to late-twenties life and the kind of relationships that often grow, flounder, dissipate, plateau during this period of an individual’s life.
New Tab is a highly readable, carefully crafted and often very funny début novel that thankfully works just as well on the page as it does via Skype.