RIP Paul Quarrington 1953-2010
January 21, 2010 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Canadian author Paul Quarrington - best known for his 1989 novel Whale Music, about a reclusive Brian Wilson figure holed up in a beach house writing songs to play for cetaceans - has died of lung cancer this morning at the age of 56.

Whale Music won a Governor General's Award and was turned into a film (which Quarrington co-wrote) in 1994, featuring a soundtrack by Canadian indie rock institution the Rheostatics. He was a Giller Prize finalist in 2004 for Galveston. His 1987 comic hockey novel King Leary (which won the Stephen Leacock Award for humour in 1988) was plucked out of out-of-print obscurity by former Rheostatics guitarist Dave Bidini to win the CBC Canada Reads contest in 2008 (warning: embedded audio link).

The Globe & Mail has posted a handful of interviews and video tributes (including ones from Michael Ondaatje and Blue Rodeo's Jim Cuddy).

Quarrington's own website is encouraging donations to be directed to the Quarrington Arts Society.

2008 Quill & Quire profile.

Video for "Claire" by the Rheostatics (from the Whale Music soundtrack; Claire is the obsessed fan who makes a pilgrimage to the beach house of the film's protagonist to drag him out of his personal and professional stupor).

I knew Paul slightly. We shared an editor and I bumped into him from time to time, most recently at the 2008 Eden Mills Writers' Festival. I hadn't even heard he was sick. A very brief bit of editorializing: Fuck.

posted by gompa (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
That's too bad. My condolences to his friends and family.

posted by purephase at 8:33 AM on January 21, 2010

posted by Flashman at 8:44 AM on January 21, 2010

It's a bit insane that I haven't heard of this writer until now. It would seem like a no brainer for company like Random House Canada to publicize their writers in the states. Anyhow, not much is available here and a search on Amazon shows Whale Music to be out of print.

posted by Skygazer at 9:22 AM on January 21, 2010

Logan In Overtime was the first book a girl gave me as a romantic gesture.

posted by The Card Cheat at 9:47 AM on January 21, 2010

posted by Brody's chum at 9:53 AM on January 21, 2010

It would seem like a no brainer for company like Random House Canada to publicize their writers in the states.

Speaking as an RH Canada author, I can tell you no Canadian publisher has the resources to do serious publicity in the US (they can barely manage to properly publicize a portion of their list each year in Canada), and in any case it would do them little good as they have no way to obtain decent US distribution. (Random House Canada obtains the Canadian rights to a great many of its US sibling's titles as a matter of course, but this is in no way reciprocated.)

Basically the only way for a Canadian writer to sell books in the US is to find a US publisher. And I can assure you that no amount of success in Canada has any bearing whatsoever on the interest level of an editor based in New York. It's almost a liability, actually.

posted by gompa at 10:00 AM on January 21, 2010

Sad. Whale Music was the best book i ever found at a dollar store. My friends and i wound up going back and buying every copy they had.
posted by topher74 at 10:02 AM on January 21, 2010

posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:19 AM on January 21, 2010


Whale Music is just amazing. Quarrington was a very, very talented writer.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:38 AM on January 21, 2010

Sad news. I knew him a long time ago, haven't seen him for years. He played bass with Joe Hall in Toronto. He was a quirky, funny, and altogether sweet guy.
posted by Jode at 11:00 AM on January 21, 2010

posted by Cosine at 11:27 AM on January 21, 2010

What a loss.
Thanks Gompa for giving a fitting memorial to a great man. Why Quarrington's writing isn't more widely known is baffling to me.
posted by jeffen at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2010


Bad week for Canadian arts.
posted by paddbear at 11:41 AM on January 21, 2010

Paul wrote a series of articles w/ the National Post about his fight with cancer. Part One and Part Two. Also video accompaniments to them.

So sad. I remember finding Whale Music in the library when I was a teenager and being so entranced into it. One of the first books that I read in teen/early adulthood that totally transported me away. After that I scoured the catalogue for each and everything he wrote.
posted by beautifulcheese at 11:59 AM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I borrowed a copy Whale Music last week and was looking forward to starting it this weekend. So sorry to hear the news of Paul's passing. There is a memorial for him on Friendsatrest (Tribute to Paul Quarrington)

I hope he's up there entertaining the angels.

posted by upandover at 1:09 PM on January 21, 2010

posted by icathing at 1:25 PM on January 21, 2010

posted by Smart Dalek at 1:36 PM on January 21, 2010

That's too bad. Loved that book. I'm pretty sure I know where it is, I'll send you my copy if you want Skygazer. Memail me if you'd like it.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:07 PM on January 21, 2010

Wow, this is very sad. I knew he had cancer but I actually made an involuntary shriek-whimper of upset surprise when I scrolled down and saw this news.

I took a writing class from Quarrington the summer after high school. I'd won it in my high school's annual writing contest, and because I'm primarily a playwright, was going to take my class with Edward Albee. Albee dropped out because this was Toronto's Summer of SARS, and Quarrington was nice enough to take me into his class, where I was both the only playwright and the youngest person by at least a decade if not more. In preparation I read as many of his books as possible and was deeply impressed and moved by their quality. This probably lead me to be shyer than usual and I only got to talk to him once. I wish I'd been more interesting. But I appreciated all of his advice to the class through the week, and I followed his career as much as possible after that.

I hate when writers die young. You just know there was some brilliant idea we all missed out on.

posted by ilana at 9:42 PM on January 21, 2010

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