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.


Lynne said...

Oh my. It took me a while to get around to it (only because I've been a little overworked, not because I lack interest), but today, as things are winding down for vacation (yay!), I decided to check out your blog. Sadly, the first paragraph I read left me feeling annoyed. Considerably so. :-(

I agree completely that _Bonheur d'Occasion_ is a phenomenal work. But so, quite frankly, is _The Tin Flute_.

I guess I was disappointed by what comes across as quite an arrogant remark that, because you can read the French original, the English translation is not worth your time. As if a translated version is automatically some pathetic, second-rate version. And the flippant remark that "technically" the translation won the GG award is also grating. There is no "technically" about it. It *DID* win the award. And justly so. It is a deserving piece of literature.

Since you also mentioned _Trente Arpents_, I skipped directly to that entry, but I found your comments there on the subject of translation to be even more irritating to me...

I find the idea of your GG project to be a very cool one. I'm certain that you do have lots of interesting insights and viewpoints -- and you are certainly entitled to have your own opinions ;-) -- but I'm annoyed and no longer in the right frame of mind to read any more of your blog at the moment. I'll come back to it another time. Right now I feel like going to read some translated material, purely so I can marvel at and appreciate the skill and effort involved in producing eloquent text while simultaneously capturing pre-scribed meaning and effect.

Yes, the Gabrielle Roys of the world are amazing. But in my books, so do the Sheila Fischmans deserve their place -- and our respect -- as luminaries on the Canadian literary scence.

That's my two cents' worth. And I can write it in French for you, if you prefer :-P

Jason said...

I guess my perspective is that if there had been Governor-General's Awards given to French language works in this era, that the translations would not have won. This is buttressed by the fact that in the official list both Ringuet and Gabrielle Roy are credited as the authors, not the translators (http://www.canadacouncil.ca/NR/rdonlyres/CCA1B1A6-59E5-4748-BFEE-B64313E92624/0/cumulativewinners20091.pdf). Furthermore, a specific translation award was created later.

So, my purpose was not to disparage translators or translation, but rather to respect what I feel was the original intent of the award. In my opinion, the real travesty is that no French language awards were given until 1959.

I do think a distinction can and should be made between the creation of an artistic work and the translation of a work.

In any event, my goal was to respect what I believe to be the purpose of the award, not to comment upon translation.