Sunday, August 12, 2018

Roy's Enchanted Summer

Enchanted Summer / Gabrielle Roy; translated from the French by Joyce Marshall.
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004, c1976.
125 p.

I first began reading this little tale of a summer in the Quebec countryside ages ago, in an old hardcover edition I'd found somewhere. Then I got to page 80 and realized that the book had a misprint -- the signature repeated itself and then jumped to the next, so I could reread the beginning and skip over most of the middle if I wanted! Well, of course I didn't, so I laid it down, and only began reading it again recently when I came across this little New Canadian Library (no.155) edition, with two collected short works included. 

I am generally a fan of most everything Gabrielle Roy has written. There are some works that are stronger and some that are not quite as strong but still charming and enjoyable to read. This is one of the latter for me.

It is made up of short pieces describing a rather idyllic summer she spends in the rural countryside of the Charlevoix region of Quebec. The narrator introduces us to her friends, to the locals, to visitors and to family - not to mention a heavy rotation of pets, wild animals, bugs and birds. It's a style of impressionistic writing that makes me think of the nature writers of the 70s overall, a kind of sun-washed, floral, almost naive style. Though Roy never backs away from the realities of life and death and much in between. 

We begin with the two friends encountering a bullfrog on an evening walk, in a humorous moment, which turns to pathos by the end when the bullfrog is gone - in all likelihood eaten - by the next summer. An elderly aunt comes to visit and a big production is made to get her down to the river one last time, the great St Lawrence River of her childhood; and as it turns out it's the last time she ever sees it. The book also includes a flashback to the memory of a teaching post in Manitoba when as Roy leads the school children to the home of a dead classmate to say goodbye. It's considered natural though tragic. There is a sense of the sublime in these essays - how the world in its own rhythms towers over our small lives. But there is also some humour, much charm in her descriptions of crows, cats and more, and an almost overwhelming nostalgia - one of the signatures of her style. 

I am glad I persevered and found a readable edition of this book - it's the perfect book to read when your own summer vacation is much more urban and truncated than this lengthy rural idyll. The weekend feels much longer when you spend it in Roy's company. 

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