CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 3 . . . .September 28, 2007
Gabrielle Roy: A Passion for Writing. (The Quest Library; 30).
Montreal, PQ: XYZ Publishing, 2007.
158 pp., pbk., $17.95.
Roy, Gabrielle, 1909-1983.
Authors, Canadian (French)-Québec (Province)-Biography.
Authors, Canadian (French)-20th century-Biography.
Grades 9-12 / Ages 14-17.
Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.
You know, one doesn't become a writer merely by the grace of God. Of course, that's what I thought until I met Henri. Then I soon realized that years of practice are necessary, and thousands of pages must be written before that goal can be reached. There's more, though: writing is a craft that must be learned under taskmasters who guide the aspiring writer, and sometimes, reveal the writer to himself. I was ignorant of all this. I believed writing came as an illumination, and afterwards, everything fell into place on the page in golden letters. The truth is more prosaic.
On a warm September day, a man named André Vanasse meets his idol, an elderly French-Canadian writer named Gabrielle Roy, at her home. He discovers, much to his chagrin, that she is quite angry with him for his prior oversight in forgetting to send her tokens of appreciation for a speech she wrote. Strangely, instead of sending Vanasse on his way, Roy confides in him the story of her life, including tales from her glittering literary career.
In Gabrielle Roy: A Passion For Writing, André Vanasse shares the story of Gabrielle Roy, the Manitoba-born author of such Canadian classics as The Tin Flute, Where Nests the Water Hen, and Enchantment and Sorrow. Vanasse, who is a professor and a writer, conveys the biography of Roy as it was told to him. Rather than paraphrasing their conversation, he combines long quotations from Roy with his own observations and inferences. In this sense, Vanasse's narrative technique results in an interesting sort of biography as it is told about a woman, and yet he uses, as much as possible, her own words about her life.
Interestingly, and somewhat oddly, Vanasse weaves his own story into the hesitant revelations of his beloved Roy. For instance, the story of their first meeting is as much about Vanasse's personal discomfort as it is about our first impression of Roy. Vanasse's insertions of himself into the biography seem somewhat intrusive at times, such as his strong references to his hunger, which appear to be irrelevant. As well, his philosophizing is, at times, somewhat distracting, such as this trite quotation: "The infinite manifestations of love will always surprise us. Love can bring together people who are opposite in every way and cleave them together throughout their lives." However, when viewed from a different perspective, perhaps Vanasse's inclusion of himself in his biography of Roy parallels her own philosophy about writing. Roy desired a "greater intimacy" with her readers, and she felt that she could achieve this goal if she incorporated herself as a character in her magazine writing. In fact, when speaking of her new method of magazine journalism, she makes the following comment to Vanasse: "Why shouldn't I appear in the scenario — I, who'd taken such pains to get to the heart of things [...] ?" In this sense, it is fitting that Vanasse acts as a character in his narrative, as this technique pays homage to Roy's original idea.
This biography of Gabrielle Roy may interest Senior Years students who are studying the works and the lives of Canadian writers. The book contains a great deal of biographical information, including photographs, a chronology of her life and her times, a bibliography, and an index. Most notably, the fact that this book is written in a narrative format means that it is a relatively engaging read about one of Canada's literary stars.
Pam Klassen-Dueck, a Middle Years teacher, is presently a graduate student at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON.
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