1. Next Episode has a strong autobiographical component. Like his narrator, Hubert Aquin fought for the independence of Quebec and was arrested for carrying a firearm and driving a stolen vehicle. After appearing in court, he was held for several months in a psychiatric institute. While in the institute, he wrote Next Episode. How do these facts affect your interest in the novel? Do they alter the impact of the story?
2. What are different possible meanings of the title Next Episode? How can they be related to the conclusion of the novel?
3. The cover of Next Episode shows the well-known painting by Benjamin West, “The Death of General Wolfe” (1770). This painting is mentioned several times in the story (pp. 89, 90, 91). Why is this painting crucial to the meaning of the novel? In what way does it give a historical dimension to the narrator’s revolutionary quest?
4. In the first few lines of the novel, there are two references to Cuba: “Cuba is sinking in flames [...]. Between the anniversary of the Cuban revolution and the date of my trial...”
(p. 1). Why do you think that these references appear at the beginning of the novel? What important theme do they highlight?
5. The narrator’s spy story takes place in Switzerland. There are many images of descent into Lake Leman and ascent towards the mountains. How do these images reflect the narrator’s emotional state?
6. In the spy story, the revolutionary agent finds a one-word mysterious cryptogram of jumbled capital letters which he is unable to decipher (p. 10). The source of the cryptogram is Vita Romana by Enrico Paoli. Aquin uses seven of the fifteen original Latin inscriptions designating various people to formulate the cryptogram. In what way does this strange cryptogram add to the mystery of the spy story? Why do you think that it cannot be adequately decoded?
7. Why does the narrator give the counter-revolutionary enemy in his novel three different names: Hamidou Diop, Carl von Ryndt and H. De Heutz? What other characteristics of a spy novel can be found in this story?
8. The narrator frequently writes about his feelings of hopelessness and despair. What is the cause of his despair? In what way is he trying to overcome it?
9. How would you describe the main character incarcerated in the psychiatric institute? Is he a self-indulgent delusional man or an idealist and a revolutionary who wants to liberate Quebec?
10. The narrator’s main character, a Québécois revolutionary, is unable to kill the enemy H. de Heutz. What parallel do you see between this character and the narrator? Why are the themes of audacity and powerlessness central to the novel?
11. “The only thing that’s certain now is your secret name, your warm, wet mouth, your amazing body I reinvent again and again with less precision and more passion” (p. 4) writes the narrator about his beloved, the blonde woman named K. How does this passionate love story enrich the meaning of the novel? In what way does the letter K link the narrator’s love for a woman to his love for Québec?
12. How would you describe Aquin’s style? Why does the action move back and forth from Montreal to the Eastern Townships to Switzerland? Why is the prose frequently feverish and dense?
13. “I am the fragmented symbol of Québec’s revolution, its fractured reflection and its suicidal incarceration” (p. 13) writes the narrator of Next Episode. In what way does this statement invoke both hope and despair?
14. “Writing is a great expression of love” (p. 45) says the narrator. Why is writing such an important theme in this novel? In what way is writing related to the narrator’s desperate quest for survival in the psychiatric institute, to his love for K and for an independent Québec?
15. In the last paragraph, the narrator writes: “When the battles are done, the revolution will continue to unfold; only then perhaps will I find the time to bring this book to a final stop and to kill H. de Heutz once and for all” (pp.122-123). Why has the narrator been unable to stage the murder of H. de Heutz? What does this inability reflect?
16. “That’s what I’ll say in the final sentence of my novel. And, a few lines later, I shall write in capital letters the words : THE END.” How do you interpret the ending of Next Episode? Why is Aquin unable to finish the story?
17. What does Next Episode tell us about the desire for change and independence in Québec in the 1960s? In what way does the novel transcend the boundaries of Québec to express a fundamental human need for self-determination?
18. Hubert Aquin was strongly influenced by some writers of decolonization, especially Albert Memmi and Frantz Fanon. How is this influence evident in the novel?
19. Next Episode is a novel of liberation and one of the most important books written in Québec. It is bold and innovative in style and content. It speaks eloquently and passionately about love for a woman, for literature and for Québec. Why should it be read by as many Canadians as possible?
About the reader's guide author:
Janet Paterson is Chair of the Department of French at the University of Toronto.
She is a specialist in Quebec literature who has written several books, including a critical edition of Trou de mémoire in L’édition critique de l’ouevre d’Hubert Aquin, Bibliothequè québécoise.