Quebec Studies

Why Montreal? Régine Robin's Rewriting of the City in L'Immense fatigue des pierres

Quebec Studies (2005), 39, (1), 5–16.

Abstract

5 Why Montreal? Régine Robin's Rewriting of the City in L'Immense fatigue des pierres Mary Jean Green Dartmouth College In La Québécoite, Régine Robin's 1983 classic of Quebec immigrant writing, the wandering character traces complicated itineraries through three different sections of Montreal, each ending in a compulsive pattern of return to the place of origin — in Paris: "Un jour elle aurait décidé de partir .... Elle aurait pris un 747 Air France. Départ de Mirabel à 20 h 45.... Elle se serait retrouvée rue de la Mare à Paris, dans le vieux quartier de son enfance.... (89-90). This dominant pattern of return to Paris was noted with some concern by Quebec readers, whose interpretation of her attitude was described by Robin in her 1997 "Afterword" to the novel's English translation: "'as soon as she talks about Paris, she waxes lyrical and has a tremor in her voice, but when she talks about us in Quebec, there's always something she doesn't like'" (173). "In other words," Robin continues, "I was accused of not understanding Quebec, of not liking Quebec, of seeing only the negative, keeping myself at a distance, marginalizing myself" (173-74). And as the author goes on to admit, if she had not written the book, she herself would have ended up leaving Montreal and going back to Paris. But by 1997 Robin's attitude toward Montreal, if not toward Quebec identity politics, had undergone evident change, as is visible in the short story collection she published in the preceding year under the title L'Immense fatigue des pierres. In these stories, dominated by the network pattern of the international airline map and the World Wide Web, Robin reinscribes and reorients the pattern of travel and, particularly, the search for the lost mother begun in La Québécoite. Oddly enough, in this collection Paris loses its privileged central position and becomes another point of transit, even a site of exile and oppression. This is especially true in "Gratok," where Robin gives an account of the experiences of a Jewish child hiding in Occupied France. On the other hand, in two of the stories in the collection — the title story and "Mère perdue sur le World Wide Web"— Montreal becomes a chosen destination, the site of reunion of mother and child, a place of dwelling, a potential home. When the wandering mother and daughter of the title story seek a place to begin a new life together, they optimistically conclude, "Et pourquoi pas Montréal?" (39). Accustomed to the more pessimistic portrait of the city in her earlier novel, however, Robin's reader might understandably respond by wondering: why Montreal? The shift in Robin's vision of Montreal between 1983 and 1997 might perhaps testify to a realization of the optimistic vision with which she had concluded La Québécoite: "Tout doucement, ... ils sentiraient les choses changer autour d'eux. Le Québec tout doucement s'en irait vers une société plurielle sans qu'il y paraisse" (201-02). But in her 1997 "Afterword," speaking of the hope of erasing the lines that divide immigrant ("néo-Québé- Québec Studies, Volume 39, Spring/Summer 2005

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Green, Mary