Cape Breton author Douglas Arthur Brown is getting a lot of well-deserved attention lately for his new novel Quintet. And although he is hesitant to open his private life to the public spotlight, xtra.ca sat down with him recently for an interview.
In Quintet, Brown tells the tale of identical triplets, long separated, who reunite at the funeral of their parents. They begin to examine, through shared journal writing, the family’s unresolved past, their own unique relationship and the strained connection with their older brother Tally, also known as The Big B.
Ralph Higgins: The three triplets — Adrian the gay chef residing in Denmark, Rory the artist who only paints with the colour red, and Cameron the musically inclined carpenter with a history of drug use — are very distinct individuals, sounding and even “looking” different in the reader’s mind.
Douglas Arthur Brown: When I created the triplets they quickly shed their physical sameness in my eye. I knew they wouldn’t feel that they looked alike. That helped me to draw out the nuances in their characters. However, that in itself was not enough to distinguish them for the reader and I needed to be assured that readers would always know who was speaking. Sculpting their language took almost a year after I finished the first draft.
RH: The story of Adrian affected me the most deeply, and not, I think, just because he is gay, but because, for part of his life anyway, he seemed the most alone.
DAB: Adrian may have appeared as the lonely brother, but he goes to great pains to distinguish the difference between being lonely and alone in the novel. I struggled with this definition in the writing of the novel.
RH: The book is called Quintet yet initially there seems to be only four main characters. The fifth person is really the key to the entire sequence of family events, would you agree?
DAB: It was [my editor] Clare who came up with the beautiful title for the book and without giving anything away, several readers have told me that when the significance of the title became evident it created an “aah” point for them.
RH: I was surprised initially by the triplets being out of touch with each other for such a long time. I thought it unlikely until I spoke with a friend who is an identical twin who said he understood the need to search for ways to be different when the physical similarities are so marked and this can lead to long separations.
DAB: I’ve also had the experience several times in my life, where in passing, a friend I’ve known for years reveals that he or she has a twin. Unfortunately, [through] overt or unconscious effort to define their own sense of self, they cut the cord. The triplets in Quintet, although they’ve been apart for several years, are always cognisant of a deep emotional need to seek common ground. They spent their early years working as a team and good team members can also manage individually.
Storytellers like Douglas Arthur Brown are a breed apart, effortlessly combining the ability to wring our hearts with exquisite melancholy and with enough wry humour and sardonic commentary to make us laugh aloud. Quintet is a brilliantly engaging novel told with masterful skill.