Raoul, Valerie. Di&tinctly NarciÃ´oiÃ´tic: Diary Fiction in Quebec. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993. Pp. 307.
Valerie Raoul begins her book on diary and journal fiction in Quebec with a
refreshingly frank discussion of her earlier work, The French Fictional Journal: Fictional Narcissism/Narcissistic Fiction, published in 1980. She notes, for example,
that her prior study "minimized references to psychology" and focused more specifically on what she previously termed the "grammar" of diary fiction, namely "self,
time, and writing" (5). A work of maturity and revision, Distinctly Narcissistic differs
from Raoul's earlier study, as the author herself indicates, in its double emphasis on
the contexts that produce diary fiction and on the types of narcissism that Raoul
identifies as being associated with diary writing. The new analytical model therefore
incorporates important cultural and psychological determinants.
For her corpus, Raoul makes reference to more than fifty novels and stories that
contain a diary or journal in some form. The range of authors selected for discussion
in this study is impressive and includes a number of Quebec's most celebrated writers
such as Laure Conan, Gabrielle Roy, Marie-Claire Biais, RÃ©jean Ducharme, Jacques
Godbout, Anne HÃ©bert, Michel Tremblay, and Francine NoÃ«l. To her credit, Raoul
also considers texts by less frequently read authors such as Henriette Dessaulles,
FranÃ§ois Hertel, Jean-Jules Richard, Jacques Garneau, and GeneviÃ¨ve Amyot.
Raoul is well-versed in contemporary psychoanalytic and feminist discourses
(Lacan, Kristeva, Chodorow, Beauvoir, Irigaray, Gallop, Felski, Flax), and in critiques of colonialism (Fanon, Memmi, ValliÃ¨res, Larose, Pelletier, Minh-ha), as well
as in recent critical approaches to autobiography and autobiographical fiction (Didier,
Girard, Lejeune, Miller, Smith). In Distinctly Narcissistic, she uses theoretical perspectives on narcissism as they apply to issues of gender, language and subjectivity,
minority cultural status, and collective identity politics in order to highlight the cultural as well as the individual contexts of fictionalized self-writing.
Raoul argues, for example, that the modern diary novel emerged in Quebec in
the 1960s, primarily in the experimental novels of writers such as Biais, Ducharme,
Godbout, Bessette, and Aquin. This date is significant for the author because it also
corresponds to the political prise de conscience and prise de parole that gave birth to
Quebec's Quiet Revolution. However, Raoul refrains from focusing on the more
obvious thematic preoccupations of nationalist discourse in the fiction of this period.
Instead, she uncovers links between the fictional journal in Bessette's Le Libraire and
Godbout's Salut Galarneau! and the birth metaphor. In so doing, she demonstrates
how individual metaphors for the creation and development of the self, which emerge
in the fictional journals of the 1960s, are connected to larger collective debates regarding the need to engender a distinct national identity. Raoul also comments on
the different psychological meanings and cultural effects of the birth metaphor in
Quebec diary fiction depending upon whether the author is male or female.
Raoul's project is ambitious, her scope is broad, and the conclusions she reaches
are often illuminating. Because of the rapid overview given so many authors and texts,
however, Raoul's study sometimes appears rushed and the analysis a bit forced. Yet on
the whole, Distinctly Narcissistic represents a serious effort to weave crucial questions
concerning Quebec culture and francophone collective identity into a discussion of