news | Friday January 16, 2015

Book Review: Michel Tremblay’s Crossing the City in the Montreal Gazette

Ian McGillis reviewed Michel Tremblay’s latest novel for the Montreal Gazette on January 14, and he’s clearly a fan! We are so pleased to see this delightful book and its excellent translator, Sheila Fischman, lauded. Read the full review online – “Michel Tremblay’s epic chronicle rolls on” – and see highlights below.

Crossing the City is the follow-up to Crossing the Continent and forms the middle part of The Desrosiers Diaspora … Looking back over it all, as narrative arcs intersect and overlap and characters cross over between the plays and the novels, it dawns on you that this is all really one big work, telling one big story. In this case, though, “big” shouldn’t mean intimidating. In a perfect world you’d see every play and read every novel in sequence, but happily you don’t need to, because each instalment is also built so it can stand on its own. …

Throughout, what strikes perhaps strongest is something that has been evident with Tremblay right from the start: few men write about women with his empathetic immediacy and emotional acuity. The way they talk to each other, the various masks and voices they adopt according to the needs of the moment, their deep reserves of humour and compassion — the Desrosiers sisters, and indeed the young Nana, are so alive on the page that you all but hear them speaking.

I was in a café recently when a francophone friend saw that I was reading a Tremblay novel and, after professing herself a huge fan, asked “Is it good in English?” A fair enough question for any translation, but in this case it goes beyond the standard concern about how well any text can survive the journey from any one language to any other. Tremblay, remember, hit the scene not simply writing in French, but in a specific kind of French: Les Belles-soeurs presented joual on the stage for the first time and created a new era overnight in the process. Ever since, anyone taking on the task of representing Tremblay in a foreign tongue has had an extra responsibility, and it is to Sheila Fischman’s great credit that at not one moment in Crossing the City does the reader sense that something might be getting lost. Fischman has been doing precisely this kind of thing for so long that, in her own way, she is every bit the icon Tremblay is.

So, to answer the question: yes, it is good in English.

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