Roch Carrier Joan Harcourt

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Joan Harcourt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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 Seal," with its symbolic overtones. There is a gruesome journey through a forest from the bride's home to the groom's, during which the marriage is "celebrated" in what must be one of the bleakest consummation scenes in literature…. The book ends on a tender note, with neither we nor they knowing whether the horrors of the night had actually taken place or had all been a dream born of generations of harsh conditioning. What we do know is that the devil is an ever-present reality, an image by means of which the Church reins in those who would break away, in fact or in fantasy. Again, it is the language of the Mass which provides the more colourful oaths. As in La Guerre, there is, on one level, no questioning of clerical authority. But in the dark regions of the unconscious, the characters are straining for freedom.

Philibert, in some ways, is light years beyond the medieval ethos of the first two books. Philibert, the son of the grave-digger in La Guerre , decides, the morning after the wake, to leave home, "and he wouldn't come back...

(The entire section is 641 words.)