Books of Affection – Helen Fortin

Helen Fortin, 65 (Interview on August 9, 2021)

Helen Fortin has been a member of the Atwater Library for several years. She is familiar with independent libraries in Montreal since she moved from the Eastern Townships about 40 years ago. As a lover of books, she participates in the Atwater Book Club.


Fortin likes an array of different books, but she especially prefers to read fiction books. She loves British and Irish novels and poetry. She likes to read books that represent humane matters with a sense of humour. To find new books, Fortin goes to library web pages and searches on book sellers’ websites. She also reads book reviews in the New Yorker. For children’s books, she uses the Facebook page of the minibiblioPLUS, a project she developed and founded at the Fraser Hickson Institute Library.

Fortin’s favourite books are Small Island by Andrea Levy (London: Headline Review, 2009) (from her own collection) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary (New York: Europa Editions, 2008) (from the Atwater Library collection).

In Small Island, Levy narrates the story of Jamaican immigration to England after World War II through the viewpoint of the four main characters, Hortense, Queenie, Gilbert and Bernard. This book represents a meaningful period of Fortin’s life. It is the last story she shared with her mother (who always encouraged her love of reading) before she passed away.

Andrea Levy, Small Island (London: Headline Review, 2009). Digital Montreal, QC. 2021. Photographed by Wanessa Cardoso.

In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Barbary tells the story of Renée, a concierge in an elegant apartment inhabited by bourgeois families, and Paloma, a twelve-year-old whose father is a Politician. Both characters hide, for different reasons, their many talents and qualities from a world they suspect will not appreciate them for who they are. To Fortin, this book raises philosophical matters that allow reflecting on who we are in the world, and how we are seen in the broader scheme of things.

Muriel Barbary, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (New York: Europa Editions, 2008). Digital Montreal, QC. 2021. Photographed by Wanessa Cardoso.