Éric Dupont, Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution. QC Fiction, 2022. Translated from the French by Peter McCambridge. First published as La Logeuse in 2006 by Marchand de Feuilles
In Rosa’s Very Own Personal Revolution, a lively translation into English by Peter McCambridge and Éric Dupont’s exuberant storytelling combine to produce another highly entertaining and unusual novel.
My post on Songs for the Cold of Heart HERE a few years ago suggested that Dupont is fascinated by the stories we tell each other – among other reasons, to answer the big existential questions we – and his characters – raise. As in that earlier novel, Rosa involves personal quests for larger truths than those found at home.
That all sounds rather serious, but this novel is great fun, and fizzes with idiosyncratic energy. It’s much shorter than Songs… as it deals mostly with the quest of just one character, Rosa (unlike the multiplicity of quest narratives in the earlier novel). There are also, as in Songs…, plenty more stories-within-stories, myths and fables, which usually serve to contribute to Rosa’s evolving enlightenment.
She’s brought up as a fervent Marxist in a small, sleepy village on the Gaspé peninsula in Québec province. Boredom infests the air – literally. Rosa sets out for the big city of Montreal to seek the west wind that would blow the poisoned air away, for the village’s wind has gone. Beneath this Wizard of Oz-type playful surface of the novel, though, is a sterner metaphorical (and at least partly) political element: take the air out of a region’s atmosphere and its people become atrophied (perhaps indifferent to their fate), and that leaves them vulnerable to malign political and other influences.
Along the way Rosa takes up with a group of strippers with whom she becomes great friends. She gets a job as a receptionist at a hotel where she gradually realises the women she befriends there are sex workers.
Among Rosa’s endearing qualities are her naiveté but also her moral/political probity: when one of the women finally explains to her what’s going on in the hotel, Rosa accepts what they do as their own business. She’s not judgemental about what women do with their bodies.
On the other hand, she refuses to keep quiet when her boarding house landlady Jeanne pontificates about the importance of preserving national identity in the province. It’s not that Rosa (or, I suppose, Dupont) is against such ideas; her spirited objection is to the borderline xenophobic attitude behind the over-zealous condemnation of anyone who Jeanne believes to be a threat to the culture and traditions she belongs to.
I think the strange title refers to Rosa’s epiphany towards the end of the novel that the Marxist revolution she’d been brought up to revere is less important than her own personal one. Her epiphany is a kind of non-revolution. She wasn’t cut out to be the saviour of her village; her quest was to find herself. But I may have got that quite wrong…
It’s maybe not the most original of morals, and the satire I found sometimes misfired, but the sheer zest and fun in the narrative compensate for some of what I thought were less successful digressions and non sequiturs that Dupont carried off with more panache in Songs for the Cold of Heart. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading. Dupont writes with such a sense of fun that it’s impossible to resist Rosa’s charm.
QC Fiction continue to expand their catalogue of English translations of Québec fiction in French with novels that maybe vary a little in literary quality, but are always stimulating and original.
My thanks to them for the advance reading copy.