Pierre Falcon’s is a decidedly biased view of the characters he sketches. The English and Scottish Canadians are unfailingly depicted as stiff, dry, and deceitful; the Metis, by contrast, prove uncomplicated, emotional, and full of vitality. As a result, it is the Metis who stand out as fully fleshed characters. The ultimate challenge to Falcon’s skill as narrator, though, lies in bringing Louis Riel to life. The Metis leader is a complex man, given to introspection in the form of visions and prayers: In his essential solitude and pious habits, Riel seems unlike the rest of his race. From time to time, however, he does blaze forth in impassioned speeches that mesmerize his listeners—or so Falcon says. It is supremely difficult to convey the charisma of a man such as Riel in words: Falcon acknowledges this but tries to do so anyway by focusing on those around Riel for their reaction to him. Characters such as Dumont, himself not given to religious devotion and therefore puzzled by it in Riel, nevertheless implicitly believe with Riel that their mission is God-ordained. There are those who profess throughout the work that one has only to gaze into Riel’s eyes or spend time in his presence to be totally under his spell. Wherever he goes, Riel commands attention and respect, even among his detractors.
Falcon’s binary vision ultimately succeeds in bringing the enigma that is Riel to life. He reproduces letters to and from Riel, as well as some of his...
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