Roch Carrier Essay - Critical Essays

Carrier, Roch


Carrier, Roch 1937–

Carrier is a French-Canadian novelist and short story writer who interlaces personal and political themes in fiction that is richly symbolic. A recurrent subject in his work is the separatist movement in Quebec.

Ronald Sutherland

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...

(The entire section is 517 words.)

Joan Harcourt

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 Seal," with its symbolic overtones. There is a gruesome journey through a forest from the bride's home to the...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

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 together in the last sentence: '… the war … had dirtied the snow.'

The political undertones are always present but what makes Carrier's novel so impressive is his ability to weave serious political observations—about Quebec, past, present, and future—into a picture of a village in which political, sexual, and religious issues make up life's whole. (The reader is often reminded of Stendhal and Balzac.) One closes the book not with the sadness of having read another account of defeat at the hands of Anglo-Saxon imperialism, but with a feeling of joy in the demonstration of the energies of the defeated, who are so much more human than their English conquistadors. The breadth of Carrier's sympathies, in conjunction with a Kafkaesque economy in narration, signals the advent of a major new novelist. (pp. 114-15)

Robert J. Green, "Québec's Two Enemies," in Journal of Commonwealth Literature (copyright by Robert J. Green 1972; by permission of Hans Zell (Publishers) Limited), June, 1972, pp. 113-15.

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 enough to be burned in hellfire for ever, but he was bad enough to be burned in purgatory for quite a while, and God, who put him in the milder flames for his purification, will take him out sooner if they all keep repeating their garbled, nonsensical prayers. No wonder they need frequent draughts of cider to keep them at it. (p. 44)

The many parallels Carrier establishes between the war and the Church convey his criticism of this the dominant institution of the village. Through images too he links the Church to the life-diminishing forces of the community. The holy water freezes as the priest sprinkles Corriveau's grave. In the warped mind of Henri the Church and death are so closely associated that Corriveau's coffin becomes the ark into which the whole world enters. The nun with her thin smile and sharp teeth appears like a vulture peering in through the open window from the dark cold winter night on to the mourners, "whose sweat turned to ice on their backs." (pp. 44-5)

The book is founded on a paradox and itself participates in the paradox which it discovers to us, namely, that it is death which teaches us to appreciate life, just as hunger makes us appreciate food, and absence makes the heart grow fonder. Carrier has observed that the villagers are never so enamoured of life as when they are celebrating a wake. He therefore makes his novel the story of a wake. But paradoxically, the book, like the wake, turns out to be a celebration of life. The characters, who may at first sight appear to be a bunch of warped individuals, full of frustrations and inhibitions, turn out, on better acquaintance, to have a healthy love of life—and more common sense than the Church.

The bilingual title of the novel reflects the division between Canadian cultures but also the more essential thematic conflict between the negative force of death and the positive affirmation of life. Through Carrier's mastery of the technique of the modern...

(The entire section is 1405 words.)

Kenneth Gibson

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...

(The entire section is 654 words.)

Brian Vintcent

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 entire section is 522 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 204 words.)