Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
Once again, Québec author Éric Dupont has crafted a delightful novel bringing together the rustic world of the Gaspé Peninsula with fast-paced life in big-city Montreal. Masterfully translated by Peter McCambridge, arguably the best contemporary translator in Canada, Rosa's Very Own Personal Revolution brings to English readers a view of Quebec society too long hidden from them.
The novel centres on the adventures of Rosa Ost, a young woman raised in the quaint backwater of Notre-Dame-du-Cachalot. Perched on the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, Rosa's small village boasts of only two industries: a paper mill and the extraction of a precious, but sometimes toxic, gas: Boredom. The paper mill is now defunct, and repeated promises of the provincial ministry of GLUM to find new investors have come to naught. But Boredom is booming, employing a burgeoning workforce of twenty who maintain the pipelines carrying the precious and lethal gas to tankers for export to the fashion capitals of the world; for no runway Super-Model can be without her Boredom. Meanwhile, Rosa's mother, Terese, the president of the defunct paper mill's union, continues to preach the Marxist gospel to all who wish not to listen. And Rosa, named after Rosa Luxembourg, grows up in the glow of a socialist utopia to be.
Early in the narrative, Dupont introduces a tragic turn of events. The villagers are protected from the occasional and otherwise deadly leaks of Boredom by the westerly wind. One night, the wind disappears, and the fumes enter the bedroom of Terese. Rosa’s Das Kapital-thumping mother becomes the village's first victim to Boredom. In the absence of the sanitizing westerly wind, more villagers succumb to the lethal gas. Rosa decides it is her duty to save the proletariat of her village by finding and bringing back the westerly wind. And where better to look than Montreal. So, our heroine becomes the first of the Notre-Dame-du-Cachalotois-e-s to leave the beloved village.
Rosa's journey to Montreal, her friendships with exotic dancers, prostitutes and young foreign students, and the oppressive behaviour of her ultra-nationalist landlady, Jeanne Joyal, provide the grist for the rest of the story. There is even a whiff of romance when Rosa meets Réjean Savoie, a handsome Montreal police officer, whose Acadian accent sweeps her off her feet. Dupont's witty depiction of stereotypes, some very true, through this parade of characters is what really elevates the novel as a contemporary masterpiece of literature and social commentary. It may be a stretch to compare it to Voltaire's Candide or Von Grimmelshausen's Simplicius Simplicissimus, but the temptation is certainly there to do so. Like the protagonists of Dupont's literary forebears, we root for Rosa every step of her revolutionary quest for the westerly wind. And in her mastering of life's lessons, we too reflect on our social values and prejudices.
Rosa's Very Own Personal Revolution is published by the QC Fiction Imprint of Baraka Books.