Quebec Studies

"Out of time": Memory and Mortality, Self and Society in Michel Tremblay's Albertine, en cinq temps

Quebec Studies (2011), 51, (1), 107–120.

Abstract

107 "Out of time": Memory and Mortality, Self and Society in Michel Tremblay's Albertine, en cinq temps^ Rachel Killick University of Leeds Though the experience and handling of time are essential elements in Michel Tremblay's œuvre, they tend to attract less immediate attention and to excite less detailed comment than the spatial geographies of his imag­ ined universe, firmly established from the moment of his first forays into theater and into fiction. Les Belles-Sœurs, the play with which he made his name in 1968, located itself loudly and controversially by bringing to the stage of "respectable" theater his re-creation of the popular speech of East End Montreal, commonly known as joual. Matching and complementing this linguistic localization, his first novel, La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte (1978), the initial volume in what was to become the six-volume series, Chroniques du Plateau-Mont-Royal,2 descriptively outlines the isolated, insu­ lar space of the belles-soeurs' Montreal territory by detailing the route of the number 52 tramcar, "la plus longue ride en ville" (GF 19). Running from "[le] petit terminus au coin de Mont-Royal et Fullum pour descendre jusqu'à Atwater et Sainte-Catherine, en passant par la rue Saint-Laurent" (GF 19), this ride takes the francophone housewives of the Plateau down to the city center, but only as far as Eaton's, "au coin d'University," the point beyond which lies the terra incognita of the anglophone West End of the city that separates them from the other francophone enclave of Saint-Henri.3 The "horizontal" geographical focus of Tremblay's work is thus par­ ticularly clearly sited and circumscribed. Other locations such as the lost place of Québécois origin in the Laurentian countryside, the deceptive cul­ tural mirage of the French motherland as figured in Paris,4 the NorthAmerican heritage represented by Saskatchewan and the myths of the Crée,5 the "féconde paresse" of sea and sky as exotically imagined in the "otherness" of the bay of Acapulco,6 come into play as alternative geogra­ phies. However they do so in counterpoint to a Montreal reality which always remains the dominant presence. In contrast Tremblay's portrayal of the "vertical" chronologies of time seems at once more muted, and also more varied and elastic, tied less specifically, it seems, to the chronologies and events of the public world, than to those of the domestic interior and, still more intimately, to the inner experience of the individual characters. In his theater, he may present, as in Les Belles-Sœurs or Messe solennelle pour une pleine lune d'été (1996), the action of a single evening that maps exactly the staging in real time of the play, but this tight chronological matching of fic­ tion and reality also encompasses sudden suspensions of time where indi­ vidual monologues open up black holes of unspoken frustration, longing and despair. Elsewhere, taking the challenge of theatrical time-frame to an opposite extreme, plays such as À toi, pour toujours, ta Marie-Lou (1971) and La Maison suspendue (1990) subvert the linearity of chronology in a simulta- Québec Studies, Volume 51, Spring/Summer 2011

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Killick, Rachel