Linda Amyot, 2014 Canada Council laureate – Governor General’s Literary Awards

In 2011, I published a novel
called La fille d’en face, which featured a
character named Élaine. When I’d finished the novel,
I felt like continuing with Élaine in a second novel – one that would not
necessarily be a sequel. So Élaine
came back, and very soon, the character of Adèle
appeared, an old lady of 85, and I don’t really know how
she came into the story. The character was drawn
from different sources – a little bit from one of
my aunts, a bit from my mother, a bit from my grandmother, and
a bit as well from an old lady I helped with
writing her memoirs, who had been married to
a Canadian of Dutch origin. It was a bit of all those women
that allowed me to create the character of Adèle,
and it’s also the story of the meeting of two women – a young girl going
through her first romance, and an old lady remembering her first love
that she has never forgotten. One of the things I really
liked in writing this novel was that throughout,
I was astonished by what happened to the characters. I did not expect that
the character of Élaine and the character
of Adèle would build such a strong friendship. I have to say that when
I start writing a novel, I know the beginning and I know
the end – but I have no idea what is going to
happen between the two. I knew that Élaine,
the young girl, would meet Adèle, the old
lady, at the beginning, but their friendship – the
strength of that friendship – really surprised me. I caught myself discovering it, and I imagine that readers
will discover it a bit like I did myself when
I was writing the book. I have a hard time
saying exactly what the most difficult thing
was about writing the book. Maybe the research,
since the character of Adèle, as I mentioned, falls in
love with a young Dutchman living in Ottawa
during the war – living in exile
here, during the war. So perhaps it was all the
actual historical research surrounding that –
the fact that Canada welcomed the Dutch royal family
and its entourage during the Second World War. But I didn’t want that
part of the book to feel too journalistic – it had
to be really integrated into the story and flow well,
and so perhaps that was the hardest part, but
otherwise I can’t say that any of it was really difficult. I think what I learned from
writing Le jardin d’Amsterdam is that no matter
what age we are, the strength of the
emotions we experience will last throughout time. The character of Adèle,
who at 85 can remember her first love
like it was yesterday. A first love that she
experienced at 12 years of age and that lasted
for a good 20 years but that has remained
in her memory and her sentiments all her life. Perhaps that is
one of the things. And the other thing is to
see that the relationships forged between
different generations – here we have a 15-year-old girl
and an 85-year-old woman – are just as important
as any others. In other words,
the connections of friendship, of affection, of esteem
and of admiration, transcend any notion
of age, of generation, of race, of whatever, and that, I think, is what makes for the
beauty of human nature. This place is also
where Élaine continues to take refuge when she
needs to confide in Adèle. Amsterdam is a reference
to the fact that despite all the desire and wishes
Adèle may have had to join her beloved in Amsterdam,
she never actually went. It’s the symbolism around
Amsterdam because of that story. It remains far away,
but at the same time it remains a memory that is very
present in the life of Adèle. For someone who has
never read or heard of the Le jardin d’Amsterdam,
I think I would say that it is a story
of the friendship between an 85-year-old lady
and a 15-year-old girl. A friendship that
transcends generations, where each feels understood
because they share the same sensitivity about life
– and it’s also a love story, a story of Élaine’s
first love at age 15, and of the first love
of Adèle, who at 85, looks back on her first love, which has always really
been her only love. And so this too helps
create the connection between these two women from
two different generations – a kind of echo between
two women, two generations, and the echo of a reality
that in a few years will no longer exist – in the
sense that in a few years’ time, there will no longer be
many living survivors of the Second World War.

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