While reading The Original Face, Guillaume Morissette’s second novel, it’s easy to be swept along in the tide of disdain, apathy and criticism of life in the 21st century.
“I don’t think I ever want inner peace,” I typed to Eloise on Facebook Chat. “Inner warfare just seems so much better.”
Daniel, a freelance graphic designer, lives in Montreal and is having a midlife crisis. ‘Midlife crisis’ might be an unusual term for someone who is turning 30, but Daniel is convinced that getting older and becoming a proper adult isn’t all worthwhile, and should be avoided.
Daniel’s life is an all-too-familiar reflection of those who have tried to forego the traditional 9-5 workweek. Instead, we’re told tales of browsing online, surviving on basic meals and the lengths that one will go to avoid chipping away their soul at work (but also worry if it still gets damaged in their personal life).
On top of this, another focus of the novel is Daniel’s relationship with his girlfriend, Grace. Grace cares for Daniel but doesn’t necessarily understand the way he thinks & relates to things. This is Daniel’s true tragedy; he can’t simply be around those whose company he enjoys and survive, but instead is thrust into a world that only seems to make him uncomfortable.
“When I am dead, take my ashes and make a computer with them.”
The biggest testament to Morissette’s writing is how well he captures the banal moments in our lives that we forget or skim over. Daniel is an interesting juxtaposition of being completely aware and ignorant at the same time, and we can see how this makes his life harder for him by the way he struggles with basic actions. Morissette manages to capture what it is to feel lost in the 21st century. Gone are the days we first just feel alienated from those around us, but instead now through the internet we see the life we should want, and that makes us feel even more alone because we don’t want that.
The internet is central to Daniel’s life, and to be honest, if it was absent in a novel about a 21st century freelancer it would be a major lack of authenticity. The internet is where Daniel draws most of his influences from, with his pieces comprising of gifs and other modern day forms. Once again, this only makes Daniel the outsider as older people do not get his work, and younger people see it as a trend. The identity crisis, along with Daniel’s interaction are what makes The Original Face such an important novel. Littered with modern day technology & terminology, it accurately captures what it feels like to be disconnected in the age of connection.
“It’s going to pay off. I have big plans. The staff that’s in place now, in five years, you could all be managing departments. Don’t you want that?”
“No,” I said.
In short, The Original Face is a fantastic novel. It reads like a more socially relevant version of Tao Lin’s Tai Pei and even though the novel does interesting things with its location (particularly a geographical crisis in how people perceive Toronto, Montreal and Newfoundland), it’s Daniel and his thoughts that really shine. Daniel is an abstraction of Grace’s normality and this shines with Morissette’s concise and clear writing when questioning reality, his ambitions and why the fuck people think This is 40 is a funny film.
Read The Original Face if you want to see sharp writing about the times we live in; don’t do it if you’re afraid to find out something about yourself.