Floralie, où es-tu, filled with boisterous, ribald humour and stylistic fireworks, is another impressive accomplishment—a genuine relief from the agonized, novel-escaped-from-the-confessional-booth trend in contemporary French-Canadian writing. In more ways than one, however, Floralie is a step backward. La Guerre, yes sir centres around the return of the body of a soldier killed in the war to his native village in rural Quebec. Floralie moves even farther into the past and describes the wedding night of the soldier's parents, Anthyme and Floralie Corriveau. But this chronological retrogression is attended by a curious retrogression in narrative technique. The book incorporates much of the paraphernalia of mediaeval literature, including dream allegory, monologue debate, sorcerer of a sort, enchanted forest and the seven deadly sins. Carrier seems to have taken the "Middle Ages" motif quite seriously.
Between fantastical realism and real fantasy, however, there is a very thin line. And it seems to me that the difference between Carrier's La Guerre and his Floralie, the difference which makes the former a more powerful and meaningful novel, is that Floralie crosses the thin line into fantasy. If the first book can be described as Faulknerian realism in its method of probing the motivating forces and special genius of a society through exploration of the more grotesque and bizarre means...
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La Guerre, Yes Sir! and Floralie, Where Are You? are much more alike in mood than Is It The Sun, Philibert? … is to either of the others. The action of the first two covers, in each case, the span of a single rural night. Philibert takes us to the city and compresses months of misery into a brief hundred pages.
The first two books are a mordant mixture of desperate joy and surrealist horror, morality plays on the rampage. La Guerre revolves around the funeral and wake of a young soldier, whose union-jack draped body has been brought back to his home for burial…. The villagers are divided viciously each from the other, and as quickly united against any outside influence, so that, in the end, a grim communal front prevails. Les maudits anglais are frequently invoked but are not really seen as a tangible threat…. It is the Church that looms over all, dictatorial, resented, but an utterly binding force. As rough cider loosens tongues, the most sacred concepts become terms of invective and hate. Thus purged, the villagers wearily file into church the following morning, to hear their curé deliver a blood-chilling sermon on the evils of resisting the state in which God has seen fit to place them.
Floralie takes us back thirty years in time, to the wedding night of the parents of the dead boy in La Guerre. The setting is reminiscent of Bergman's "The Seventh...
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Robert J. Green
La Guerre, Yes Sir! is a first novel of staggering sophistication and control, proving that there now exists in Montreal a major international writer….
[In] the course of a few pages Roch Carrier has succeeded in portraying with memorable vividness all the frustrations the Quebec rural proletariat suffered at the hands of its two rulers: an incomprehensible Catholic God who dominated their spiritual lives, and the hated English ('maudits Anglais') who have forced French Canadians to fight a war that is not their concern. (p. 113)
The climax of the novel is the wake at which the villagers, well fortified with roast pig and local cider, gather to pray for the dead Corriveau. The result is a counterpointing of the peasant's naïve ribaldry and the stark terror of the Hell that they fear awaits them. Finally, the combination of succulent pork, vintage cider and earthy anecdote overcomes the threatening terror of purgatorial fires: the Quebec villagers, we sense, have reasserted their own humanity and independence in the face of God and the English soldiery, the twin enemies. Thus the scene that follows, in which the Anglophone soldiers, offended by the raw vigour of the Francophone villagers, throw them out of the house of mourning takes on great symbolic weight as an acting out of French Canada's political and cultural deprivation…. All the novel's themes, of personal and social castration, are drawn close...
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Nancy I. Bailey
[A closer look at La Guerre, Yes Sir!] suggests that its wide appeal may come less from a regional social realism than from the universal themes around which Carrier builds his fable, themes as true for Europeans and Americans as for Canadians. Carrier dedicates the novel (which he says he has "dreamed") "to those who have perhaps lived it." The vividness of his treatment of the lives of his Quebec villagers during World War II often resembles the grotesque, slightly enlarged scenes of dream and nightmare. But his themes, though mirrored in the concreteness of the French Canadian village, are concerned with the issues of our time: the hatred of war and the impossibility of being isolated from it; the failure of the Church to deal with problems of faith, or morality, and of alienation; the difficulty of relating to other cultures in the global village; and above all, the strange, stimulating presence of death as a means to authentic existence in life itself. These are not trivial themes, nor are they of concern only to French Canadians. (p. 43)
Throughout the novel we are kept aware of the villagers' religion—a popular form of Catholicism, to which the older people cling for comfort. The younger people are more inclined to use its sacred terms—hostie, calice, tabernacle, crucifice, etc.—in their blasphemies. The theological implications of prayers for the dead rise to the surface now and then: Corriveau was not bad...
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Roch Carrier's trilogy, of which Is It the Sun, Philibert? is the last part and the newest Dark Age, drives on remorselessly from rural Quebec to the civilization of Montreal, where the real heart of darkness lies. The more leisurely tempo of the earlier novels, with their attenuated nights, slow drives, and long meditations between speech, is now abandoned for the newest rhythm. Those repeated images in La Guerre, Yes Sir! and Floralie are now the mental furniture of young Philibert; they haunt his speech and make him turn his most individual acts into threatening allegories.
With a ferocious irony Carrier thrusts the new world on us as he does on Philibert. The novel has not so much a plot as a conspiracy: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Freedom is death, but only so recognized at the moment of embrace. "A man alone," Philibert groans, "can do nothing." But he has fled the stifling family to be independent; to be alone. He reads a pamphlet that asserts "Life should be beautiful"; one of his employers, Papatakos (who also pimps for his own wife), shouts "Money! Work! That's the life!"; and a mad couple who pray to the "little white skeleton with minuscule bones" of their dead child, force Philibert to pray with them: "To die is to live." He cannot survive with these vicious paradoxes, nor can he abandon them: they mesh too well with his past.
The horror of that past is...
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They Won't Demolish Me! is not only a fantastic farce full of the most extraordinary comic invention. It deals with more than the funny antics of a group of oddballs who seem to be living through a never ending naughty childhood. This comedy is just one of the many levels on which the book moves, and it is a level which is firmly rooted in the serious.
"They" of the title are the developers, of course, the big guys, the capitalists, the faceless bosses who never appear. Ever expanding, "they" are also the City Administration, the English, change, progress, even death and God himself. On the other side, the "me" who resists demolition is Dorval, his house, the little man, the French Canadian, the drones in a heartless society, the irrepressible forces of life which make a man wrestle to maintain himself and the small area of the world he has claimed as his refuge against all comers. At its broadest interpretation, the book pits whatever supports life against whatever embraces death.
In terms of Carrier's own development as a writer, They Won't Demolish Me! shows signs of a new maturity. The explosive violence of La Guerre, Yes Sir!, the fused world of dreams and reality of Floralie, Where Are You?, the exuberant characters and stirring disorder of Is It the Sun, Philibert? are all here. And certainly the protests against the "goddamn capitalists" and the "maudits Anglais" are...
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Emile J. Talbot
The point of view in Roch Carrier's brilliant sixth novel [Il n'y a pas de pays sans grand-père] is that of Vieux-Thomas, once a vigorous man, now in his seventies and restricted to a rocking chair by his own family. Refused all freedom in his own house, he is left to musing about his past. However poignant Vieux-Thomas's situation may be, it soon becomes clear that this is not only a perceptive novel about the pain of old age, but that it carries a powerful political message as well. For the rocking chair which Vieux-Thomas has built himself and on which he has carved fleurs-de-lis is, by its back-and-forth movement which never goes anywhere, clearly emblematic of Québec, just as Vieux-Thomas's situation is not without analogy to that of the Québécois people, who do not consider themselves free in the very land which they have built. (p. 249)
There is no sentimentality or heavy-handedness in this truly moving narrative, but Carrier's discreet sympathy for Vieux-Thomas ennobles this aging man, who in a surge of generosity commits the last free act of his life. (p. 250)
Emile J. Talbot, in World Literature Today (copyright 1978 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, 1978.
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