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Mon cher grand fou ...: lettres a Marcel Carbotte 1947-79.

Mon cher grand fou ...: lettres a Marcel Carbotte 1947-79. By GABRIELLE ROY. Ed. by SOPHIE MARCOTTE in collaboration with FRANCOIS RICHARD and JANE EVERETT. Montreal: Boreal. 2001. 826 pp. C$34.95. ISBN 2-7646-0123-9.

When Gabrielle Roy met Marcel Carbotte in May 1947, she was arguably at the height of her fame, as her first novel, Bonheur d'occasion (1945), was acclaimed successively in French- and English-speaking Canada, in France, and in the USA. A few months after meeting in Manitoba, the couple married and left Canada for France, where Marcel completed his medical training, and in 1950 they settled in Quebec, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Roy's letters to Marcel Carbotte, edited by Sophie Marcotte, cover the period between their first brief separation until 1979, the year in which Roy suffered a first heart attack and ill health put an end to her travels. Over the thirty-two years covered in this correspondence the couple had established a pattern of life that suited Roy's needs, a pattern of regular and necessary separations, accompanied by the equally necessary contact by letter or telephone. She would leave Quebec for several months of each year in search of winter sunshine, of new landscapes, of peace and quiet to rest, observe, read and write, often relying on the care of undemanding but dedicated friends. Marcel was usually left at home working, although occasionally he would travel to join Gabrielle, take a holiday in Europe, or visit his family in Winnipeg. This is the context in which the 485 letters were written. (Carbotte's own letters are not included in the volume but can be read in SophieMarcotte's Ph.D. thesis, 'Gabrielle Roy epistoliere ...: la correspondance avec Marcel Carbotte' (McGill University, 2000).) One might well expect such a wealth of letters to be a revealing account of the couple's relationship. Equally, since it was Roy's wish that these letters and those she wrote to her sister Bernadette (Ma chere petite soeur, ed. by Francois Ricard (Montreal: Boreal, 1988)) be published, one might imagine that the correspondence would give an insight into Roy's literary works. On both counts the letters disappoint one's expectations. As a reader, one gains a certain level of intimacy with Roy, with her tastes, the pleasure she takes in discovering landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife. At the level of reportage, travel writing, and the anecdotal, her writing is lively and perceptive. At a more mundane level there is much discussion of their respective states of health, their respective financial positions, diet, and mutual acquaintances. Roy repeatedly chides Marcel for his failure to write as frequently or copiously as she would like. Yet generally the tone is very guarded, as if her status, and perhaps her aim for eventual publication, have imposed a degree of censorship on the content. There is, for example, no direct allusion to Marcel's homosexuality or to his long-term relationship with a younger man. Nor does Roy use the correspondence as a means to discuss in any detail her writing, her work in progress, or her plans for future works. Rather, the letters offer an alternative form of autobiographical writing. Whereas La Detresse et l'enchantement (Montreal: Boreal, 1996) and Le Temps qui m'a manque (Montreal: Boreal, 1997) cover the first half of her life taking us up to 1943, this volume of correspondence charts the second half of her life. It also gives us some insight into this habit of letter-writing, a necessary part of Roy's daily routine, an exercice de style, as Marcotte perceptively comments, and perhaps also an exercise in the self-presentation of a public persona.


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Author:Chapman, Rosemary
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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