Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reader's Diary #229- Gabrielle Roy: Children of My Heart (FINISHED!) defines sentimentality as mawkishness; falsely emotional in a maudlin way; extravagant or affected feeling or emotion.

"...he asked, 'There's mystery everywhere, don't you think?'
Silently my lips formed the only words that came to my heart: Oh Mederic, Mederic!"
- Gabrielle Roy, Children of My Heart (a teacher reflects on a moment shared with a student- who has just thrown flowers to her threw a moving train window, by the way)

"The time came to separate for good from these children whom I held as close to my heart as if they had been my own. But what am I saying! They were mine, and would be mine even when I had forgotten their names and faces, remaining a part of me as I would a part of them, by virtue of the most mysterious possessive force in existence, one that sometimes even surpasses the bond of blood."
- Gabrielle Roy, Children of My Heart (as a teacher prepares to say goodbye to her students)

Yet when I listened to Canada Reads panelist Denise Bombardier discuss this book with McGill prof Jane Everett, I was gobsmacked. Had they read the same book as I? One of the strengths of the book, according to these great pillars of knowledge, is its lack of sentimentality, Roy's avoidance of being overly nostalgic! Say what?!

Unfortunately it's comments like those which almost make me dislike the book more. But really, if I'm being fair, it does has it's strong points, especially with the last story. Basically it's a story about a teacher falling for a student. Oddly, Roy doesn't present this a perversely as our 21st century minds might think. In this case the teacher is 18, the student is 14, and the feelings are never acted upon in a physical way, nor are they even revealed blatantly to one another. What's more compelling than the plot, is several uses of animals as symbols. Specifically, I love that Meredic's horse Gaspard is an extension of his character. Also, there's a nice scene with the two main characters at a trout pool:

"Meredic and I knew the most innocent of joys when we thought these timid creatures were tamed within our hands and taking pleasure in our company."

Roy is most likely not talking about the fish at all. I loved when Roy reached out poetically rather than using emotional hyperbole.

But so as not to leave the impression that my feelings for the book were half and half, I do have another beef; Roy's use of weather. This is where her writing seems dated, almost like those old black and white movies which insisted on showing the female lead in a frosty, unearthly glow. Thanks in part to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), we're all quite aware of the impact the environment can have on our moods, and even actions. But why did the authors of years gone (especially the Canadian ones) seem to think that the weather was also affected by the moods and actions of us mere mortals? Meredic's father offends him and his teacher and suddenly a blizzard shows up. Likewise when they are happy, the sun seems to come out. If presented the other way around this would be fine, otherwise it feels a little too convenient, and fictional.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Did ROy write this in French? I often find that translated books seem a bit off - either stilted or overly flowery. I wonder if that might have been the case here.

John Mutford said...

The thought occured to me. Maybe translators are the ones with their hearts on their sleeves.