Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review of Bonheur d'Occasion (The Tin Flute)

Technically, as with Ringuet's Trente Arpents, the English translation of Bonheur d'Occasion won the 1947 Governor General's Award for fiction. However, as I am reasonably competent in French, I chose to read the original.

Bonheur d'Occasion tells the story of a working class family in the Saint-Henri neighbourhood of Montreal. In particular, the narrative focuses on the eldest daughter Florentine, and to a lesser extent her mother with other family members playing less significant, but sometimes important roles. The story centres on Florentine and her romantic interest in Jean Lévesque and her later relationship with Emmanuel Létourneau.

While the characters are certainly important, Gabrielle Roy's novel speaks to larger issues including urban poverty in Montreal, social class, language issues, and the Second World War. Roy has created a novel full of local colour and larger social, political, and cultural issues.

Beyond the strong narrative and social issues, Roy's use of language is tremendous. She describes scenes eloquently with precision, while not bogging the reader down in endless detail.

Overall, this is a very impressive novel. It works on every level and I am at a loss for any serious criticism. It succeeds as a period piece and as great literature.