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MOUNT ROYAL: There's nothing harder than love

a novel by Basil Papademos
Tightrope Books, May 2012
304 pages, 6x9 inches, high quality trade paperback
ISBN 978-1-926639-43-7
Cover price - $21.95

Reviewed by Amanda Jones

   When I recently spoke with author Basil Papademos about his new novel, Mount Royal, he began by questioning my motives. He finally agreed to speak after apparently promising his publisher to cooperate with "whatever media types happen to get titillated by my stuff." We were off to a great start. Then he let me know in no uncertain terms, "I do not write erotica. Please don’t call it that."

Mount Royal cover    However, in the strictest definition of the word this beautifully designed and produced novel is one of the most erotically charged works I've clapped eyes on in many years and believe me, I am always willing to take a gander at anything to do with the human erotic impulse. When I risked his ire by mentioning that fact, Papademos let me have a long cool pause then replied very slowly and clearly, "It is not a book about sex. It is a book about people who happen to have sex in their lives."

   Fair enough but I had to risk annoying him further by asking if the work is autobiographical. I was somewhat justifiably dismissed with, "All fiction is autobiographical." That did make me wonder since Mount Royal's protagonist is a lovably dissolute sleazebag called Johnny Carp, and seems to be the furthest thing from Papademos' humorless pronouncements. However, the author did warm up a bit eventually, saying, "I'm sorry but my nerves are kind of shot. It's been a very difficult time lately."

Judging from his "show" at the Toronto launch of Mount Royal, Papademos is a fellow who hides his issues well. Held at an old veterans’ hall turned into a night club called Revival, he took full advantage of the exceptional acoustics and friendly ambience. A natural performer, he tossed out a casually profane and very entertaining mix of anecdotes and passages from his new novel, along with bits and pieces from upcoming work. His performance - and it certainly was that - offered an accessible mix of stand-up comedy and spoken word. His delivery was laconic and relaxed, like an old pal recounting amusing stories at your local hang-out.

   To be honest, I was tempted to tell Papademos his "show" was downright sexy but I didn't want to risk having him hang up on me. Now in his mid-fifties, the man clearly wants to be taken seriously and his writing does have strong historical, political and cultural undercurrents. But the fact that most of those on hand were women of a certain age was not lost on him. "Women over thirty buy ninety percent of new fiction. Besides, they're my peers so some of them get what I'm doing." He's a publicist's dream; a living, breathing headline machine.

   Despite his off-the-cuff style, Papademos has very specific ideas about what he wants to project during one of his "shows" and eschews the term reading. "It sounds passive," he told me. "There's a good reason why people don't go to 'readings.' They usually make funerals seem exciting. I try to do more than just 'read.' When somebody comes to my show, they're giving me the only thing they have of any real value, their time, and I want to give them something of value in return."

   The novel takes place during 1989 in Montreal's then low-rent bohemian neighborhood, The Main. Papademos documents the lives and sometimes extreme choices of local “artists, musicians, career welfare bums and various ne’er-do-wells” but does not judge, wisely allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. Yes, the writing does examine issues of “bureaucratic control” and “personal politics”, just like the press release claims, but let's cut to the chase and settle the rumors; how sexy is it really? Let's just say you'd better be careful not to drool if you're reading Mount Royal in public.

   Two scenes in particular stood out in my mind (and elsewhere); Johnny and a "sizzling modern dance virtuoso" called Shalini have a beautifully torrid encounter in a meadow on Montreal's famous mountain during a howling summer storm. What could have been embarrassingly over-written instead feels moving and genuine. The other scene is more languid yet just as powerful. Johnny and Slim, a woman he clearly loves deeply, take their "sweet time" on the top floor of an abandoned old factory. Once again, it is a scene which could have become clichéd and porn-like but instead comes across as heartbreakingly tender. Papademos has a unique way of blending extreme sexual imagery with high romance, bawdy humor and a disarming emotional honesty, ie: it's really hot.

   His handling of the novel's female characters is deft and obviously based on experience. No man writes women this way from imagination and Papademos likes women - a lot. His key female characters are smart, strong and self-aware. Yet he thankfully keeps them off any pedestals, making them human, flawed, and three dimensional - not the simplistic sexual fantasies or hackneyed political metaphors found in so many other works of "explicit fiction."

   Although this is not a debut novel since he did have an earlier work published years ago, it is the author’s first serious effort and he is a writer to be reckoned with. I'm also looking forward to his next novel, How To Fuck Your Psychiatrist. Still in the works and due to be published in the fall of next year, he read a short passage at the Mount Royal launch and judging from the reaction, those over-thirty book-buying women he referred to will be keeping a close eye on him.

   I highly recommend Mount Royal. It is gloriously filthy and utterly hilarious, a truly mad romance. The pages catch fire and just keep on burning. And I'm sorry, Mr. Papademos, but it’s also very titillating.

Author's blog: DIRTY MINDS

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MOUNT ROYAL: There's nothing harder than love

Amanda Jones is a writer living in New York City. Her debut novel, The First Day of Forever, is based on the Kitty Genovese story, and will be published in 2013.