Monday, August 27, 2012

62. Dans la peau de Bernard by Guy Lavigne with illustrations by Réal Godbout

Well this an abrupt change of pace.  I went from near-constant reading and completion of books to an almost total cessation of any reading at all!  This young adult book from Québec really is the only book I've completed since I got back from my trip to California.  I came back to a beautiful Montreal summer and a ton of responsibilities at home and at work.  On top of it, I'm just not feeling really able to concentrate on a book when I do have a few moments before bed to read.  So there it is, good thing I already made my 50 books this year.  I did have a trip to Toronto and during the train ride there managed to finish Dans la peau de Bernard (the french only capitalize the first word in titles).

A co-worker of my wife's lent it to her and she was slowly working on it to try and improve her french.  It's all about a boy who moves to Montreal and spends all his time wandering around the alleys of Montreal.  That is also a pastime I enjoy.  Furthermore, it has illustrations by Réal Godbout, who is a seminal cartoonist in Quebec for his work in Croc magazine (sort of like Mad Magazine) and his character Michel Risque and Red Ketchup (check out this english summary of one of the Red Ketchups to see his anarchic style, it's such great stuff).  I love his thick-lines, energy and counter-culture attitude.  Here, the frenetic energy of his characters is brought into a more realistic mode (for the most part) and he does a wonderful job of capturing Montreal in the summer.  For some reason, the entire book is scanned into Google Books, so you can scroll through it and see the illustrations if you'd like.

The story is about Bernard, a young boy whose parents move from a big house in the suburbs to an apartment in the Plateau.  Both parents had lost their jobs and the uncle got the dad one working at a Depanneur (corner store)  I guess it takes place in the 70s or early 80s, a time when this neighbourhood was much more working class and such a move seen as a big step downward economically.  Today, affluent, urban couples are bidding top dollar for such an apartment.  Both parents are profoundly (and selfishly) depressed.  At home, they fight and then the mother goes to her room to cry and the father passes out on the easy chair after downing several big beers.  Bernard is neglected and spends his days exploring the alleys of the Plateau.  It's pretty sad and seems kind of realistic.  His time outside of the home is quite rich.  He is a child open to the beauty of his environment (in contrast again to his broken and inward-looking parents).  He gets involved in some scrapes in an attempt to get up on roofs to get a better view.  Things start to get really interesting when he meets an eccentric old lady whom he spied on making her way down an alley going through garbage cans.  I really can't say much more beyond that this book totally surprised me, going in a direction I had not expected at all.  It sticks with its theme of parental neglect, but in a pretty crazy way.  Great book.  I wish it would be translated into english, because it is kind of a classic.  If you are francophone or have kids in french immersion, pick this one up.

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