Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Montreal Bookshops No. 2: Defunct Part 1: Huis Clos / No Exit

Defunct is an odd word. Not a word that one would hear bandied about in the press these days. A bit old-fashioned, a bit dusty, unlikely to come up in everyday conversation. A word edging its way towards a glossary of archaic words perhaps. It is a strong, ham-fisted type of word with that stiff ended "ct". Looking it up in the OED, I have to say I like Coleridge's usage: "This ghost of a defunct absurdity." This figurative use is quite appealing and breathes life into the word--no irony intended--and is perhaps the future for such words for it seems to retain a usefulness for poetry and the pulpit. Perhaps a rock band could incorporate the word into their name, The Defunct Wallabees, or the Defunctives. In a song, it could be rhymed with adjunct, something a defunct Noel Coward could pull off. Then again, it would work well in a rap song.

As an owner of a defunct bookshop myself--well, at least in the brick and mortar type, for I still sell on-line, check out the sidebar for the links--I feel a certain affiliation with bookshops that have called it a day. Some lasted many, many years, while others had a brief existence. It seems appropriate that the first defunct bookshop I will discuss was called Huis Clos / No Exit.

Huis Clos / No Exit

This secondhand bookshop I remember being at 3636 St. Laurent, the west side, just up from Prince Arthur. It was in operation in the mid-1980s (83-86?). A fairly open space that had previously been Salamander Shoe Shop for many years. If I remember correctly, there was a set of stairs to bring you up to an open area literature section overlooking the shop below and I still have a sharp visual memory of passing on half a dozen hardcover copies of the collected works of Arthur Hugh Clough in what I think was a modern Oxford edition. I hesitated at the price, and when I went back to buy a copy, the shop had closed. One of many regrets of a book collector with limited means and wavering resolve.

Near by was the Androgyny Alternatives Bookstore at 3642 St. Laurent, which actually moved into the Huis Clos / No Exit address once they closed down. The bookmark pictured above, complete with stylised drama masks and barbed wire, lists the shop at 4318 St. Laurent, but I have no memory of ever visiting that location, and strangely enough, I cannot locate a listing for the shop at that address in the street directories.

Of course the name of the shop comes from the play by Jean Paul Sartre. No doubt someone uttered the phrase, "L'enfer, c'est les autres" but I never heard the words spoken, although I may have thought them if scooped by another buyer. I do recall, however, that one of the owner's siblings used to be in the shop from time to time, and they were heavily into the Boy George Culture Club look of the day. (As I type these words, I can hear that Karma Chameleon song.) There was a quirky vibe to the shop. I guess it was the mix of Culture Club fashion, existentialist homage, the proximity to the alternative bookstore and being on a street which was trending nicely upwards. The book selection was quite good as well.

note: As to the Coleridge quote, it comes from his 1809 essay On the Errors of Party Spirit: or Extremes Meet in his periodical The Friend. The subscribers of the day were apparently irked by the obscurity of some of these essays, though as Richard Holmes writes in his biography Coleridge: Darker Reflections, "Within its Amazonian jungle of tangled, unparagraphed, discursive prose, lay limpid pools of story-telling, criticism, memoir-writing and philosophic reflection." And perhaps a defunct word or two.

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