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Everything Is Ori coverWhat if you could create an entirely new color, distilled from human consciousness and expressed by molluscs? That is what one man attempts to do in Paul Serge Forest’s strange and unsettling first novel, Everything is Ori. Set in a fishing community on Quebec’s North Shore, Forest’s novel explores a wide range of practical and philosophical subjects, including labor relations, molluscs and mussels, family dysfunction, and the nature of human consciousness. In this way, it is much like the color ori itself—expansive, encompassing, and supremely strange.

Before Mori Ishikawa arrives from Japan with his unsettling creation, life on the North Shore is already undergoing a profound transformation. Rogatien Lelarge, the head of a powerful seafood empire, has died and left his business to his three children: Robert, Reginald (called “Saturn”), and Suzanne. Given that the last two are wrapped up in their own affairs (drug-fueled orgies for Saturn, mysticism and sex for Suzanne), Robert is given charge of the day-to-day affairs. His wife, France, and daughters Florence and Laurie, live in an old presbytery, with the daughters becoming increasingly estranged from their parents.

After a bizarre business trip to Japan—in which Robert and Saturn make a lucrative seafood deal with the Isumi Conglomerate of Tones, Colours, Pigments, Molluscs, and Crustaceans, and then see a woman disappear before their eyes at a “soapland” (a kind of bath house/brothel)—events take an unexpected turn. The brothers return to Baie-Trinité, Saturn opens his new seafood restaurant, and Mori Ishikawa from the Conglomerate shows up without any warning. Robert, thinking that Ishikawa has been sent to keep an eye on him to confirm that business is going well, invites him to Laurie’s birthday party. This fateful meeting draws Laurie into Ishikawa’s orbit and helps give birth to ori.

It is during the opening of Saturn’s restaurant that people first start noticing reality changing. Someone (Ishikawa? A Japanese gang? A biker gang from the area?) poisons the guests at the restaurant, causing them all to run out onto the beach to relieve themselves. The sanitation inspector, Frédéric Goyette, shows up later to investigates and sees a wave on the beach that defies all explanation. Its impact on his consciousness is profound, throwing him into an obsessive frenzy in an effort to explain what he saw. Eventually, he realizes (by analyzing the water at the beach) that the guests were given an unknown toxin: “he was dealing here, perhaps, with a toxin that targeted the very basis of existence. At night, he called it an ontotoxin, a toxin that targeted the being as such, Being qua being” (p. 151).

Meanwhile, Ishikawa and Laurie start meeting on the beach and eating seafood that Ishikawa brings along, despite Laurie having an allergic reaction to seafood when she was very young. Her mother’s fanatical attempts to keep young Laurie away from it have only fueled older Laurie’s obsession to eat it. Lonely after her sister moves away to college, Laurie clings to Ishikawa, learning Japanese and eventually being told the secret of ori. Ishikawa even gives Laurie a bra and underwear in the new color. Unlike most other people, who physically cannot look at the distilled substance, Laurie is able to stare directly at it, leading Ishikawa to tell her later that this means she is the embodiment of all possibilities. It’s no accident, too, that the sound “ori” is embedded in both “Laurie” and “Mori.”

Everything starts breaking down in Baie-Trinité as ori starts to spread. Saturn and his housemates start injecting distilled ori into their veins, with predictably bad consequences. Goyette nearly drives himself insane trying to track down ori’s origins and have Ishikawa explain what it is and why it does what it does. Robert’s business begins to collapse when seafood harvests are bad and the Japanese conglomerate rejects some of the Lelarge shipments. The fishermen, never quite content even during good times, revolt. And then Ishikawa buys out the majority share of Lelarge Fisheries, displacing Robert.

As Ishikawa explains to Laurie later on, “the principle of ori, and also what makes ori so the principle of human life. When we see the colour, it’s like opening a crack that sends lives other than our own rushing through our veins” (p. 299). Molluscs are particularly able to express this color—the distillation of human consciousness—because of their unique biology. The problem with ori and its production, though, is that it makes people disappear. As one Lelarge employee explains after having gone missing for months, it was like he was put on hold somewhere and didn’t realize it. Ishikawa tells Laurie that this is the price humanity must pay to bring ori fully into the world.

Concerned as it is with human consciousness and biology, desire, motivation, and expression, Everything is Ori is filled with references to, and sometimes in-depth descriptions of, bodily functions, including ejaculation and diarrhea. Ishikawa often gives Laurie samples of his sperm which, when she puts a drop onto her ori underwear, makes the cloth brighter. She even puts it inside her, which draws her closer to Ishikawa, allowing her to feel whenever he dreams about her. This intertwining of intangible consciousness and tangible body underscores the mysterious process by which ori is produced—and the profound, unexpected changes that it will cause across the world.

Everything is Ori is just QC Fiction’s latest tour de force, and, given the excellent books they’ve been publishing, I look forward to their future offerings. This strange, surreal story is well matched with a skilled translation by David Warriner. Despite some phrases here and there that didn’t quite sound right, perhaps because of my American ear, Everything is Ori reads smoothly and naturally. This was one of those books that drew me in and made me forget I was reading at all. The mix of French, Japanese, and English gives this novel an extra dimension that, like ori itself, demonstrates how some processes (like translation) can never be fully analyzed or explained.

Rachel Cordasco has a PhD in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. When she’s not at her day job or chasing three kids, she’s writing reviews and translating Italian speculative fiction. She runs the website, and can be found on Twitter.
Current Issue
22 Jul 2024

By: Mónika Rusvai
Translated by: Vivien Urban
Jadwiga is the city. Her body dissolves in the walls, her consciousness seeps into the cracks, her memory merges with the memories of buildings.
Jadwiga a város. Teste felszívódik a falakban, tudata behálózza a repedéseket, emlékezete összekeveredik az épületek emlékezetével.
By: H. Pueyo
Translated by: H. Pueyo
Here lies the queen, giant and still, each of her six arms sprawled, open, curved, twitching like she forgot she no longer breathed.
Aqui jaz a rainha, gigante e imóvel, cada um de seus seis braços caídos e abertos, curvados, tomados de leves espasmos, como se esquecesse de que não estava mais viva.
By: Sourav Roy
Translated by: Carol D'Souza
I said sky/ and with a stainless-steel plate covered/ the rotis going stale 
मैंने कहा आकाश/ और स्टेनलेस स्टील की थाली से ढक दिया/ बासी पड़ रही रोटियों को
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