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Stacey May Fowles eagerly explores Evie Christie’s corrupt new novel The Bourgeois Empire

I’ve long thought Evie Christie to be a writer for those kinds of girls. The girls drinking and smoking on balconies. Girls who are not the kind you marry but the kind you know you truly love. Girls you become infatuated with, and are destroyed by.

She built a reputation as a literary brat with the release of her debut collection of poetry, Gutted, in 2005. The book felt much like a “love poem for the rest of us” addition to Can Lit; both sweet and violent, it was the kind of volume that girls like me highlight lines from and keep on hand for times of crisis.

“I don’t know about being a woman,” Christie says. “I know how to be domestic, to be a mother, to dress up — I know about femininity but I don’t understand women the way I do men. This is surely a failure.”

 

All of the contradictions of femininity and what it means to be a good woman in the modern age are in her first book, as Christie successfully outlines the conflict between the domestic sphere and the bad behaviour of wayward girls wanting more. Gutted is about the kind of love and loss we actually experience — cynical yet emotional, moving yet possible to move on from. Christie’s observations are razor sharp, her lyricism visceral and gutting; she’s solidified herself as a confessional poet who denies the typical critique that mining the minutia of daily love and lust was somehow lesser, and that love poetry was meant to be tender and doting.

The Bourgeois Empire, Christie’s second book and first novel, pulses with that same sexual intensity she brought to Gutted, only magnified tenfold. It concerns itself less with femininity and more with the contradictions, and lies, of the contemporary man. The take is as brave and seductive as it is corrupt, and as pornographic as it is beautiful. It is a short book but its pages are packed with perversions captured on web cam and buttressed by that once transgressive trinity of drinking, smoking and screwing.

“The book is about a man who falls in love with a teenage girl. I haven’t read Lolita but it is this kind of age-old wrong-love story,” Christie says. “The book deals with the vanity of existence.” The novel’s main character, Jules, is a successful professional, a family man in theory, who becomes obsessed with a 15-year-old girl, largely to slow the reality and blot out the terror of aging. “Jules is motivated by fear towards perpetual motion, that same will to power that has allowed him to succeed. He lives without truth. When he meets the young girl his days combust into life. He is, for me, a self-actualized individual. He becomes himself by way of the destruction of the comforts he has worked to pad his life with.”

I asked Christie about this interest in the sometimes-grim realities of sexuality and human interaction. “This is what I know so it is a good set to explore ideas for me. Sexuality and love, while universal, are also dark, breathing places to explore. They are organic, amoral, and forceful — when Jules finds himself confronted with full-blown love and sexuality, desire and consent, he cannot claim such amnesty from moral judgment,” she says.

“I often find great men are sad men and interesting great men act on their sadness. For Jules this means decisions most of us would deem immoral.”

Often when a poet transitions to a novel the reader is very aware of the poet’s voice attempting a narrative, but The Bourgeois Empire doesn’t suffer from this self-conscious failing. Christie falls naturally into the format. She does however admit the process is different, borne of a different circumstance. “I wrote (the novel) while my daughter was a baby and keeping me up all night. I stayed up all night sometimes for months, until I felt it was done. I had never written fiction but it was the only way I could write, as poetry often seemed breathtakingly spontaneous born of quiet roaming thought, and I had no time for such luxuries then.”

Christie is shifting genre gears again and moving into theatre, working on an adaptation of Racine’s Andromache for Graham McLaren and Necessary Angel Theatre Company. The play premiers at Luminato in June of 2011. She also has another poetry collection in the works under the good graces of her persistent insomnia.

Bad girls should uncap their highlighters in anticipation.

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