Sunday, January 31, 2010

6. Les mardis de Béatrice de Francine Tougas

This year I am making an effort to improve my french. I get by, but have been stuck on a plateau. One of the challenges with reading here in Quebec is that a lot of the classes you take will recommend books by french authors, which can be great, but are often written in a much more complex form and use a wide range of vocabulary. The dialogue is also nothing like the way people speak in the world around you here in Quebec. So I have been looking around for books by Quebec authors which reflect the actual language of Quebec. One friend, recommended Les mardis de Béatrice, written by her mother! Francine Tougas is an actress and writer in the Quebec television and movie scene.

Les mardis de Béatrice is the story of a professional woman who is seeing a therapist. Each chapter is a session, basically dialogue between the two. She is feisty, resistant but suffering enough from inner anguish that she is driven to keep coming back. I'm of two minds on the subject of psychology. My mother is a professional psychologist and she has spent most of her career working with sexually abused children and disadvantaged adults. She believes strongly that there is an unhappy state and that people can through therapy find ways to get to a happy state. My father on the other hand is completely against most forms of self-improvement and thinks the world is what it is and you just handle it as it comes to you. I go back and forth, having seen the good of both approaches.

The first half of this book definitely made me fall to my father's side of the equation. All of this woman's problems seemed to be the result of living in a free and wealthy society where people suddenly have enough leisure time to start worrying about their problems. It was actually kind of maddening and I didn't know if I could make it through the book. Fortunately, in terms of the language, it was very much what I was looking for, with lots of dialogue written the way people speak here. So it was easier for me to get through, enjoyable to read (it sounded very much like what I hear around me so that is a compliment to the writer) and educational as I finally got to see in written form many of the phrases and modes of speaking that they never teach you in a french class.

(For instance, the word pantoute which means not at all and I believe is a mutation of pas-de-tout is used all the time here. Good luck finding it in a dictionary.)

So I kept plodding through and the book does become more interesting as Béatrice reveals some darker facts about her background that give substance to her lonely, defensive condition. The narrative never really takes off nor arrives at a revelatory climax. Rather the story arc is more concerned with whether or not she'll continue her therapy and her relationship with the therapist. There was some slightly weird father-daughter dialogue and a tiny bit of behaviour by the therapist at the end that seemed to cross the line that creeped me out just a tad.

I suspect that Les mardis de Béatrice is a fairly accurate reenactment of a real series of sessions between a modern woman and her therapist and if that is interesting to you, you'll probably enjoy the book and find lots to think about. But don't look for a stronger story beyond that.

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