Roch Carrier Robert J. Green - Essay

Robert J. Green

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.