“The end of our programs” by Martin Bélanger: When radio meets letters

Radio has always been part of Martin Bélanger’s life. When he was a child, his mother religiously turned on the transistor perched on the refrigerator, “her gesture invariably greeted by a sound of frying”. From high school, he became involved in student radio, then in a community antenna in Quebec, before embarking on advertising design.

At home, in the car, walking his dog, the adopted Torontonian listens to the First Channel, when it’s not a podcast or an audiobook, out of love, but also to mask the permanent ringing of tinnitus in his ears. Even his wife, host of a radio program in the Queen City, first seduced him with her voice.

No wonder, then, that the author imbued his first novel with this medium. The end of our programswhich revisits the midlife crisis through the prism of a man grieving over his parents, would struggle to stand out were it not for its surprising and amusing form which incorporates sound bites from radio shows into the main narrative. .

radio echoes

Between these chosen snippets and the main character, Martin Bélanger establishes a dialogue, offers contrasts, echoes, marriages as amusing as they are daring. “I had the idea for this process long before I knew the story of the novel,” explains the writer, whom he met in a radio studio in downtown Montreal.

“A few years ago, I adopted a downgraded Mira dog with whom I have to walk a hundred kilometers every month, wireless earphones in my ear. It was during a walk that I wanted to create a unique, immersive sound universe that would allow the reader to dive into the interiority of a character. »

This character is Vincent, 42 years old, white collar at the City of Montreal with the title “professional apologist”. Shaken by the recent death of his father, he navigates through friendship, love, mourning and the quest for self, determined to start anew.

Between a day at the office, a datea dinner with friends and a funeral service, Vincent breaks the monotony or soothes the daily roller coaster by tuning into the Première Antenne, a public radio station whose voices and words tint each of his misadventures.

“All of the radio clips included in the novel are fictional, but I went to great lengths to make them look believable. I emulated the phrasing of the state radio hosts’ speeches, because I wanted the latter to be recognized. It allowed my character to be interested in culture, science, politics and classical music. »

One sided forgiveness

To sketch his protagonist, Martin Bélanger first drew inspiration from his own life. In addition to suffering like his author from tinnitus, Vincent also lost both his parents in the space of 13 months, discovering with surprise and guilt the differences that can exist between one bereavement and another.

He also allowed himself to be guided by a theme that has been with him for several years — that of forgiveness — hence this burlesque professional proposal of “giver of excuses”. “It’s not my only job, I also have to answer the phone and help tax payers find their way around our administrative system, our “citizen interface”, but it’s still my main job. A white collar of contrition. And at the City of Montreal, I will never miss a job, ”explains the narrator of the novel.

Thus, Vincent telephones the citizens to apologize for the delays of a construction site, a tax increase contrary to the electoral promises of the party in power or even because a cat has been electrified by a defective wire.

“My parents were very Catholic, and even though I’m not religious, I grew up with those values. Forgiveness is a very noble and important dimension of this religion. There are a lot of excuses being made these days. The government, the Church, the people “cancelled by the wave of denunciations… Often, their contrition is useless, because the party to whom it is addressed is not necessarily ready to hear it. However, forgiveness is a gesture of humility that goes both ways. It upsets me. I took that thought and made fun of it, with the aim of creating a form of empathy. »

Change of direction

Martin Bélanger shows the same compassion towards his character, who tries somehow to extricate himself from a stagnation of identity coupled with an emotional immaturity which remains rather touching against all odds.

The advertising designer had, like his creation, to undergo a shock – the health crisis and confinement – ​​to decide to realize one of his biggest dreams: writing. “Coming from advertising, I always felt a bit of an impostor. I played with words, I mastered the short form, but who was I to think of writing a novel? I started writing a little for fun. I sent news to certain competitions, then I took part in the Sunday Cabaret of authors, created by Martin Petit. »

Each week, the participants had to compose a text based on a keyword chosen by the public. “I had the sting. COVID did the rest. I found myself like many in front of a blank page, and I started. »

Deeply immersive, The end of our programs has just been adapted into an audio version, on the entirely Quebec audiobook platform. “I invested myself in thinking about and designing each of the sound details. For me, everything goes through the ears. They were the source of my greatest pleasures, of my greatest learning, but also of my greatest weaknesses. It was natural for me to give auditory life to my universe. »

The end of our programs

Martin Bélanger, Del Busso, Montreal, 2023, 208 pages

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