Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Robert Hough

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Robert Hough

Robert Hough has carved out a niche as one of Canada's wittiest, most creative storytellers. After the 2012 publication of Dr. Brinkley's Tower, which was nominated for both the Governor General's Literary Award and the Scotiabank Giller Prize, he returns this spring with The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan (House of Anansi). If that name sounds familiar, you may be a rum fan — Henry Morgan was a 17th century privateer who is best known today for being the red-suited inspiration for Captain Morgan rum.

He's much more than that in The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan, however, a book which gives us the character of Benny Wand as well as the eponymous Captain. Benny is a thief and game hustler, arrested in London and deported to Jamaica, where he comes to the attention of Captain Morgan. The unlikely friendship that develops between the two is challenged by Morgan's increasing corruption. As friends devolve into enemies, adventures on the high seas follow.

Today we welcome Robert to Open Book to take our version of the Proust Questionnaire. He tells us about a sartorial extravagance, his hypothetical Learning Annex course and a bird whose chill we find ourselves in awe of.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

What is your dream of happiness?

The complete dissolution of ego.

What is your idea of misery?

Being lost in a hot jungle.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?


What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

See above.

What is your chief characteristic?

I try hard.

What is your principal fault?

A penchant for brooding.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Happy Socks. Can’t get enough.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Where others see hypocrisy, I see the sort of contradictions that make us human. So yes. Quite fond of hypocrites, actually.

What do you value most about your friends?

The stuff I say seems to amuse them.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

I invent catastrophe where there’s none to be had. It’s what I do. I’m so good at it, I could teach a Learning Annex course. “How To Convince Yourself The Sky is Falling” might work as a title.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?


What would you like to be?

Capable of time travel.

What is your favourite colour?


What is your favourite flower?

Any cactus bloom. There’s a metaphor there.

What is your favourite bird?

Easy! The South American condor!! When the condor decides it’s life is over, it soars to several thousand feet, tucks it’s head, and plummets toward earth. Imagine being that zen!

What historical figure do you admire the most?


What character in history do you most dislike?

Mao. (see #30)

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Thomas Flanagan, Tibor Fischer, Mark Helprin, Thomas Berger.

Who are your favourite poets?

John Giorno. The Four Horsemen. Dr. Suess.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Pi Patel. Gould from Gould’s Book of Fish. The guy who couldn’t stand coffee in Memoir From AntProof Case. Oh! And the guy in Little Big Man.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I just saw The Decemberists at Massey Hall so right now my hero is Colin Meloy. Yup. You heard it here first. I want to be Colin Meloy.

Who is your favourite painter?

Mark Rothko.

Who is your favourite musician?

Miles Davis.

What is your favourite food?

Smoked salmon on a montreal bagel with cream cheese, capers and red onion slivers.

What is your favourite drink?

The milkshake.

What are your favourite names?

Gertrude. Cornelius. Bertha.

What is it you most dislike?


What natural talent would you most like to possess?


How do you want to die?

When I’m really, really old, human rights will have sufficiently advanced that I will be able to choose the moment of my end via lethal injection when I no longer have any quality of life.

What is your current state of mind?


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

The way Sally and Ella turned out. ‘Course that’s not my accomplishment alone....

What is your motto?

Think less, avoid vampires, give shit away.

Robert Hough’s novels have been nominated for numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Trillium Book Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His most recent novel, Dr. Brinkley’s Tower, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award. He lives in Toronto.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.


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