It is a reassuring thing, picking up the debut book of the latest Canadian novelist and discovering familiar themes with a passionate conviction that illuminates the truth that we cravenly seek in art. Colleen René is the latest protégé to come out of Concordia University’s creative writing program; her debut book – Nothing in Truth Can Harm Us, is written with immitigable clarity of the world of common experience. She describes the Montreal that any local lives in between sleeping and waking; her novel vindicates the forgotten reaches of the city with wine-glass clarity. The pleasure of the book lies in returning to these innumerable lanes of memory, in storms of nostalgia, yet with an emendation in outlook that allows the reader to see these places in a new light. She is, in short, an approachable novelist; she recapitulates the colloquial experience as the centre of her work, yet is uncommon as her work is genuine and unique.
Colleen René is an echoer of the voices of Eva, an eccentric Concordia arts student; Mathilde, Eva’s aunt and caretaker, a zany maritimer with warm awkward manners, and Gaby, Eva’s mother who longs for her daughter and is picking up the pieces of her broken life. The story vacillates around these three women who are bound by blood; they are marred by a decades-old tragedy, which has torn their relationship apart. When Eva’s aunt insisted on moving to Montreal from Nova Scotia, Eva was nonchalant and indifferent, but when she arrived, she was faced with an oceanic city that was discombobulated compared to her quiet sea-side maritime upbringing. She’s swept up in the ravening currents of Concordia University’s sprawling student art scene of drug-fuelled parties, radical student ideology, and Planet Plateau’s immersing orbit. She belongs to a generation of disenfranchised youth, where indifference is confused with equanimity and discursiveness with artistic possibility. She walks the halls of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall Building as a phantom; come upon the school day, the future is uncertain; she is free and directionless. Mathilde is mercurial and uninvolved with her niece Eva; she spends her nights drinking merlot under the veil of candlelight and writing obscure love letters to a man who has long since vanished. Eva’s mother, Gaby, is locked up in a Nova Scotia mental institution for Women, with her parole hearing weeks away, and her only plan is to be reunited with her daughter.
Colleen René originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. She holds a BA in Creative Writing from Concordia University. Her work has appeared in journals across Canada, and her short story All That’s Left won Dalhousie University’s James DeMille Short Story Prize in 2016. More recently, her short story Growing Pains was longlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize in April 2022. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario. Nothing in Truth Can Harm Us was released in August of 2023 by Tidewater Press.