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Troubled author settles score with controversial TV host in posthumous story

09/13/2011 06:08 EDT | Updated 01/12/2012 02:20 EST
MONTREAL - A troubled author who killed herself two years ago has reached out from beyond her grave to shake up a high-profile Quebec TV host.

In "La Honte," which translates as "The Shame," Nelly Arcan writes of a young woman's traumatizing experience during a TV interview and how it deeply affected her.

What has raised eyebrows, however, is that the former prostitute-turned-acclaimed-author apparently based the story on her treatment during a 2007 interview on Quebec's top-rated "Tout le monde en parle."

In the interview with host Guy A. Lepage, Arcan discussed her new book at the time, "A ciel ouvert," where she chronicles the tempestuous lives of two women who define themselves through plastic surgery. The interview jumps off from this to examine attitudes to sexuality, beauty and women.

The interview is pretty standard fare, with some brief juvenile asides by some of Lepage's fellow panellists. Arcan looks uncomfortable at some points and coolly dismisses a lewd comment by Lepage's sidekick about her low-cut dress.

A newly posted note on Arcan's website, which precedes the story, says the interview "quickly turned from Arcan's work to concentrate on the sulphurous aspects of her personality, her sensational declarations, her physical appearance and her incoherence."

It adds that in "La Honte," Arcan "relates her traumatizing experience with the media world" and "the lack of respect she suffered."

"La Honte" does not mention Lepage or his show by name, although the main character is also named Nelly.

Lepage spoke in an uncharacteristically hushed voice Tuesday in an interview with Radio-Canada, expressing shock at finding himself a character in posthumously released prose.

He said he raced home upon hearing about Arcan's story so he could watch the video of the two-year-old interview, to see what he might have done wrong.

Lepage said he was left baffled after viewing the video. He said he thought he treated Arcan politely, with even more respect than he accorded to some other guests.

He also released a statement in reaction to "La Honte."

"In this story, she demonizes me, suggests I had vile and hidden intentions toward her in this interview which she has judged as disastrous," Lepage wrote on his "Tout le monde en parle" website.

"It would be inappropriate of me to reply to Nelly considering she died in tragic circumstances two years ago. But I would like to say I was troubled at reading this new work because I have always enjoyed her writing and will always appreciate it."

Arcan was 36 when she hanged herself in her Montreal apartment in 2009, shortly after finishing her fourth novel, "Paradis en clef." A translated version is available in English this year under the title "Exit."

Lepage said the controversy has disturbed him deeply because he lost a brother to suicide.

He posted the original interview on the show's website and asked people to read Arcan's story, watch the interview and draw their own conclusions.

Some rallied to Lepage's defence, including blogger Stephane Laporte, who said the host was beyond reproach.

He said the tragedy occurred because Arcan was an extremely sensitive woman, psychologically fragile, and unprepared for the unsparing scrutiny of live television.

"Guy A. Lepage was not mean to her," Laporte wrote on the website of Montreal La Presse. "Guy A. Lepage did his job that night, as he does every Sunday."

Lepage's "Tout le monde en parle" isn't just a popular show.

It's a Quebec institution with sky-high ratings and is considered a necessary stop for anybody seeking to be somebody in the province. Some guests, like late NDP leader Jack Layton last spring, have coasted to new heights of popularity on the strength of a single appearance. Others have received a rockier ride from the show's irreverent host and other regulars.

The show has no real equivalent in English Canada but rivets audiences in Quebec who tune into it on Radio-Canada, the French-language network of the CBC.

A program where entertainment personalities mingle with decision-makers, it regularly draws more than 1.4 million viewers and claims a monster audience share in Quebec.

Arcan's story has been posted on a website created by Parvis Communications, at the request of her family, to keep her work alive. The site includes other unpublished work.

Arcan left few indifferent and her writing talent was seldom discussed by either gender without reference to her stunning looks.

Her first novel in 2001 was "Putain," which was translated into English as "Whore" in 2004, and followed by three more books that established her as a literary star in Quebec and France.

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