06 September 2013

Susan Haley’s Novel about Émile Petitot

We’ve been busy in the shop this week printing, sewing and binding Susan Haley’s new novel, Petitot, in advance of her September reading tour in the west and in the north.

In the novel, Susan Haley explores the troubled life and dubious claims of Father Émile Petitot, a controversial nineteenth-century missionary Oblate priest, linguist and ‘explorer’ whose fifteen years beneath the Arctic Circle were punctuated by scandal, delusional behaviour and episodes of outright madness and paranoia These problems caused him to be shuffled from mission to mission, temporarily excommunicated and even forcibly hospitalized by the bishop. Petitot’s story is framed by the contemporary story of Marcus, a young man who, fresh out of college and reeling from the failure of a marriage that had barely even begun, takes a teaching job in a tiny northern-Canadian native community. While struggling to grasp his own predicament, he finds himself entangled in much larger community tragedies – the suicide of an aging priest and the death of two young students from exposure. But it is his discovery of the writings of Émile Petitot which finally threatens to unhinge Marcus, launching him on an obsessive quest for answers.

Susan of course lived up north in Fort Norman for a number of years, where she ran a charter airline with her partner. In what I believe is the most northerly-sweeping Gaspereau Press tour ever, Susan will read in Edmonton, Yellowknife, Calgary and Saskatoon though mid-September. (At the Calgary and Saskatoon events she will be reading with Sean Johnston, who also has a novel out with Gaspereau this fall.) You can find up-to-the-moment details on our website.

As well as maps drawn by Jack McMaster, Petitot includes reproductions of some of Émile Petitot’s own sketches. This one is on the jacket.

Below is a short video clip of Connie sewing signatures for Susan’s book on the sometimes cantankerous Smyth sewing machine in our bindery. A signature is what we call a press sheet after we have folded it three times, resulting in a 16 page section of the book. A book comprised of a bunch of signatures which were made by folding a press sheet three times is called an octavo or 8vo book (octo for the eight pages printed on each side of the press sheet). The term signature originates from the marks printers often put at the foot of the top page of each section of the book to indicate which order the sections were to be gathered in. Signature one is pages 1 to 16, signature two is pages 17 to 32, etc.
One side of an imposed 8vo press sheet for Don McKay’s Muskwa Assemblage.

In the video, Connie is placing signatures (which have already been gathered in order) onto a conveyer. They travel to the anvil where they are flipped up and sewn together into a book block. After the book blocks are crushed in a clamp for a while to compress the threads into the spine, they are ready for binding.


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