July 2, 2020

19° C, Clear

Full Forecast


Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?


Advertise With Us

Unlucky Quebec dazzlingly detailed

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2015 (1853 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Award-winning Quebec author Raymond Bock's Atavisms, translated from French by Pablo Strauss, contains 13 compelling stories. The superstitious choice of that number is a pointer to his vision of an unlucky Quebec, whether as a collective nationalist dream or an individual's daily reality.

The stories are masterfully placed in the collection. Contemporary realism abuts historical fiction that melds into dystopian science fiction, yet there's an odd unity that's hard to pin down.

Still, one reads in each story of how the recurrence of memory and its relentless crushing of the human imagination overpowers the lonely, often-frightened, mordant characters and their situations.

Bock cuts through the political-historical headlines and conventional nationalist clichés to present a Quebec society -- past, present, and future -- always in the winter of its discontent.

For one thing, the personal is relentlessly political. None of his characters -- from the failed writer stuck in Dauphin to the suicidal history teacher in The Bridge to, significantly, an archivist, guardian and explorer of Quebec's history in A Canadian Story and The Still Traveler -- escapes that burden.

Jean Marc, the archivist in A Canadian Story, discovers his ancestor -- a doctor of almost-sacred memory hanged for his role in the 1837 Rebellion -- had murdered a perceived traitor, and believed he deserved to hang. Jean Marc doesn't like the conclusion, but presents it to his adviser almost as an offering, to be put as a corrective in the core memory of Quebec.

The archivist is also the protagonist of the great time-travel story The Still Traveler, floating through human history and recognizing the myths of all cultures are simply a way of explaining that many have time-travelled.

He sees the world itself as we know it isn't real, but rather a reflection of time as we think we know it. He ages a lifetime in the short years of his time leaps, but believes it is worth it to escape the age.

Two other stories set in New France -- Eldorado and The Other World -- have a compelling power and immediacy, and show Bock could write great historical novels if he chose.

Here the encounter between the many First Nations and the French (as they become Québécois) is shown as an encounter between divergent civilizations.

Bock doesn't sentimentalize either side of this dance of distrust. The fortresses built by colonists to keep the world out (or their world in) continues in Quebec and, one could argue, throughout Canada -- as reflected in the story Raccoon.

Rendered as a monologue (another form Bock excels at), Raccoon tells of an underclass nationalist father who builds a metaphorical fortress against a changing society of illegal immigrants, gays and vague unseen threats, determined to protect his wife and son.

Again, Bock doesn't judge his characters, but ruthlessly points out this microcosm of society's dark side. Memory is important here for this impassioned father, who creates the false one of a golden age that never existed.

The stories are cold in feeling while still evoking an emotional response. There are no weaknesses -- only the strengths of a superb, fearless talent.


Rory Runnells is the artistic director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.


Updated on Monday, June 8, 2015 at 4:21 PM CDT: Formatting.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us