News and Interviews

Fanny Britt on Judy Blume, The Handmaid's Tale, & Reading Kundera Too Young

Fanny Britt

Acclaimed author, playwright, and translator Fanny Britt's Hunting Houses (House of Anansi Press) follows protagonist Tessa over just a few days, after she runs into her ex-boyfriend, who was her first love. After chance brings them together, Tessa makes the decision to see her ex again, despite her love for her husband and children.

As the fateful meeting approaches, Tessa going about her daily life as a mother, wife, and real estate agent becomes a surreal and charged narrative. Poignant, sharply funny, and uncompromising, it's a powerhouse novel in a deceptively simple structure. Lisa Moore praised the book's "startling, soul-seizing" quality and compared it to no less than Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina moved to the Montreal of the 1980s.

We're thrilled to welcome Fanny to Open Book today as part of our WAR Series: Writers as Readers, where we delve into the books that have shaped Canada's most talented authors. Fanny tells us about her early experiences with a goddess known as Judy Blume, the European classic that shaped her reading and her romances early on, and goes beyond books to share her writerly influences.

The first book I remember reading on my own:

I read children’s books and comics since I could read, but as far as novels go, It was probably something by Judy Blume, who was a goddess to me as a pre-teen. My first Judy Blume was Otherwise known as Sheila the great, and I still get nostalgic about the book when I drive past Tarrytown on my way to New York City. I feel very lucky that Judy Blume’s books introduced me to American culture. 

A book that made me cry:

February, by Lisa Moore, a writer that I adore. Helen’s grief after losing her husband, her acute loneliness and her struggles as a mother are depicted with exceptional honesty, while avoiding pathos. Some of the images in this book stayed with me for months.

The first adult book I read:

It was probably The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera, stolen on my mother’s bookshelf -  and let me just say that I was not ready for it! I blame this book for my slightly masochistic and overly dramatic view of relationships as a young adult (I was a Teresa, of course).

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Riad Sattouf’s graphic novels, especially Retour au collège and The arab of the future series.

The book I have re-read many times:

Jane Eyre, of course.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

I really feel like I should have read James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I did try on several occasions, but was left feeling incompetent and very annoyed by the translation (when I tried in French) and just plain overwhelmed when I tried in English. I’ve also never gotten through all volumes of In search of lost time, by Marcel Proust, which my mother loves. I’ve read the first book and then... didn’t read the rest. Still hoping I can tackle this one.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:

Emmanuelle Walter’s Stolen Sisters (although it was only published in 2014) and Katherena Vermette’s The Break (published in 2016), because both books made me much more aware (although in very different ways) of the vastly underreported issues that native women face in Quebec and Canada; at seventeen, I had no idea that native women and girls had these struggles, partly because the education white kids receive in schools focuses on the relationship between Europeans and Indigenous populations four hundred years ago, when we should really be learning about the toxic and hurtful regulations and practices happening right now. I wish those things were discussed much more widely twenty years ago, especially in Quebec, where we’re still in denial about our (white people’s) responsibility.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

Emily Dickinson’s poetry was central to my own aspiration for spare yet exuberant writing. But I am also very influenced by song lyrics (Patsy Cline was a big one, so were Leonard Cohen and Richard Desjardins) and even television characters (hello, the women of Mad Men), so I guess I’m a bit all over the place.  

The best book I read in the past six months:

I have immensely enjoyed reading Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies this winter, and was jealous of her precision, her clear-eye and the wonderfully opaque character of Mathilde. I had also never read The Handmaid’s Tale in English before this year (although I had read the French translation as a student), and was absolutely blown away.

I don’t think I can get over it. 

The book I plan on reading next:

I have just started Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, and am already in awe of its beauty. It’s remarkable.

A possible title for my autobiography:

There is a frame in my kitchen which I received as a gift some years ago. It’s a question stitched in black yarn on a felt background, by a Montreal stitch artist. The question is: “How much joy can I stand?” and I’ve always found it very fitting for my personality: I have a feverish, unquenchable desire for life, but I’m also plagued with worry and pessimism. The question helps remind me to challenge that nihilism daily – while still winking at it. So I think it might make a nice title for my autobiography. 

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Fanny Britt is a writer, playwright, and translator. She has written a dozen plays and translated more than fifteen. She is the winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award in Drama for her play BienveillanceJane, the Fox and Me, her first graphic novel, was nominated for a Governor General’s Literary Award in Children’s Literature — Text, won a Libris Award, a Joe Shuster award, and was on the New York Times Best Illustrated Books list.

Photo credit: Julie Artacho

Related reading

Hunting Houses

Tessa is a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent living in Montreal. She adores her husband and three young sons, but she’s deeply unhappy and questioning the set of choices that have led to her present life.

After a surprising run-in with Francis, her ex-boyfriend and first love, Tessa arranges to see him. During the three days before their meeting, she goes about her daily life — there’s swimming lessons, science projects, and dirty dishes. As the day of her meeting with Francis draws closer she has to decide if she is willing to disrupt her stable, loving family life for an uncertain future with him.

With startling clarity and emotional force, Fanny Britt gives us a complex portrait of a woman and a marriage from the inside out.