Roch Carrier Kenneth Gibson

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Kenneth Gibson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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 the true focus of Carrier's trilogy. Yet if nearly everything in these novels turns towards symbol, or allegorical action, nothing is wholly abstract or diffuse. These singular images of, and for, an unseen power, are invariably human, and part of a vision of history as a hopeless confusion; a stupid mime acted out in what Wyndham Lewis called "the white pestilence of the Canadian winter." As the books move towards the present the images rotate wildly, until they blur with the speed. In the car-crash that ends Philibert a spinning tire seen through eyes smeared with blood becomes the unreachable source of life.

To tally up the figurations of language is to discover a violent and suffocating zodiac. Snow provides the canvas backdrop. In La Guerre, Yes Sir! the snow is patched with human blood from a self-inflicted wound; yet by the end it is the civilization of war that has "dirtied the snow." Floralie herself is a kind of paradox , the Sullied Virgin; sled-tracks over the snow form an unreadable message or a code; and in the silence of sleep "you should never dream," as Anthyme, Floralie's husband,...

(The entire section is 654 words.)