Gabrielle Roy: Creation and Memory.
Linda M. Clemente and William A. Clemente.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
And it happened, following a script right out of the movies: she arrived one afternoon at Lady Frances's and there he sat, a stranger across a crowded room, his dark eyes drawing her closer as Lady Wells shepherded her to his table, coincidentally intent on her meeting this someone really special. Surprised, undone, astonished, afraid it was all a dream, they remained speechless, gazing at each other, wonder-struck, magnetized, energized. Once on their own, the door of Lady Frances's home closed behind them, they walked fingers enlaced, in no particular direction. Romantic love, with all its irrational fears, anxieties, and joys, suddenly crowded everything else out of Gabrielle Roy's life.
The above is not an excerpt from a romantic novel, as one might imagine, but from Linda and Bill Clemente's biography of Gabrielle Roy [1909-1983]. Unlike the major six hundred page biography published last year in French by Francois Ricard, which is noteworthy for its sober, objective tone, the Clementes present an emotional and sometimes romantic account of Roy's life.
Gabrielle Roy is a famous Canadian author, whose first novel, Bonheur d'occasion [1945, translated into English as The Tin Flute], was an immediate success. It was followed by a dozen other books, including her autobiography and three children's books. She has been called "the English Canadians' favourite French Canadian," and is one of the few authors able to cross the gulf between the two solitudes. Her novels may be urban or rural; some are set in Montreal, others in the Prairies of her youth, and one book is set in the Canadian North. Another positive aspect is that her writing reflects the multicultural reality of Canada, with stories about Blacks, Italians, Chinese, Doukhobors, Ukrainians, etc. Given the scope of her writing, it is not surprising that Roy's novels and short stories are frequently included in high school curricula, either in the original French or in English translation.
For those students who read Roy's works and want some information about her life, the Clementes' illustrated biography will provide interesting background reading. However, it draws extensively on what Roy, herself, wrote or said: her autobiography, "Enchantment and Sorrow" , her letters to her sister, Bernadette, and interviews Roy published over the years. Consequently, the book often presents Roy's view of herself rather than an external assessment.
Another unusual feature of this biography is that it is not a straightforward chronological account of Roy's life. It starts with her decision, at age 28, to leave her home town of Saint Boniface, Manitoba, and her career as a teacher and focuses on the two years she then spent in France and England. Next, the book goes back over the childhood years and Roy's relationship with her parents and siblings. The concluding sections deal with her return from Europe to live in Montreal, her years as a journalist and her successful career as a writer. Although this mode of presentation leads to a certain amount of repetition, the factual information is well researched and accurate.
Interwoven throughout the Clementes' biography of Roy's life is consideration of her literature. In fact, many of the faces and places in Roy's fiction are drawn from her life: her early years growing up in Saint Boniface, the years she spent teaching in Manitoba during the Depression or discovering the poor neighbourhood of Saint-Henri in Montreal. One of the book's most interesting aspects is the attention the authors pay to documenting the links between life and art, or "memory" and "creation." Their explanations are couched in simple, clear language, devoid of the specialized terminology of literary criticism. The non-scholarly style is suitable for high school students though unfortunately it verges on the colloquial with the use of words such as "ho-hum," "Latin lovers," "savvy nun" or "breezed through."
All things considered, this is a readable and informative biography of Gabrielle Roy. Still, the inappropriate feature of the book's style and tone, evident in the excerpt and elsewhere, detracts from its purpose.
Recommended with reservations.
Carol Harvey, a Professor of French at the University of Winnipeg, has written extensively on Gabrielle Roy, including several articles and the book, Le cycle manitobain de Gabrielle Roy.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - APRIL 11, 1997.
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