Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tremblay's Hunting Ground

The Hunting Ground / Lise Tremblay; translated by Linda Gaboriau.
Vancouver: Talonbooks, c2006.
96 p.

First published in French as La Heronniere, this book is a series of five connected short stories. It is set in an unnamed village in Northern Quebec, one in which the original inhabitants (especially the women) are leaving for better lives elsewhere. The village is thus dependent for its survival on its visitors: hunters, tourists, weekend cottagers, scientists studying birds. Yet it also resents these visitors.

Each story, told by an unnamed narrator in each case, reveals the interplay between long time residents and the various visitors that appear. Each one reminded me of the great Sherlock Holmes maxim that the countryside is more dangerous than the streets of London. The characters in these stories seem to act in a state of suspended violence, the possibility of which is ever-present (and does break through in one of the stories). But even when the violence is explicit, the narrator - an older man from the village - hides from the police his knowledge of the perpetrator, who was another resident and a relative.

It is a brief collection, the style brisk and unornamented. The simple and straightforward voice of the stories clashes with the elaborate interconnections and emotional upheavals of the lives represented -- in a completely good way. It is a kind of flat reportage of a fraught situation, which only serves to highlight the tension of the tales.

Some of the stories are narrated by men, some by women who are urban weekenders. The combination of male and female viewpoints as well as urban and rural creates a lot of complexity for such a small book. I can't say I 'enjoyed' all of it, considering the topics and some of the scenes which turned my stomach, but I thought it was excellently done. There was a strong sense of place, wonderful description and character development, and a few sentences that jumped out at me and were utterly memorable.

Overall, very worth the reading, and a reminder of why I like French Canadian fiction so much. Quebec writers don't seem to be afraid of looking at darker aspects of life, and that gothic sensibility, at least in the novels I choose, appeals to me greatly.

Born in 1957 in Saguenay, the award-winning writer Lise Tremblay is one of Quebec’s most prominent novelists. Her five books have won many awards, including a Governor General's award in 1999. She works as a literature professor in Montreal at Cégep du Vieux Montréal.


  1. That sounds really intriguing. I was interested in your comment about gothic sensibility in Quebec writers - it's difficult to get hold on Quebec literature in translation in the UK, but I think I know what you mean. I love the cover, quite beautiful.

  2. "It is a brief collection, the style brisk and unornamented."

    This suits my imaginings of life in a northern Quebec village perfectly. And linked stories: my favourite kind.

  3. I'd buy it just for the cover. I hope the designer got a raise for that one.

  4. Geranium Cat - it's too bad Quebec works are so hard to get hold of elsewhere; they are definitely worth seeking out. Another 'gothic' Quebecoise writer I've really enjoyed is Martine Desjardins.

    Buried in Print - it is very atmospheric and the link is the village itself...quite interesting

    stefanie - isn't it gorgeous?! I love the combination of woodsy and delicate - plus the colours

  5. I have yet to read any French Canadian fiction, and this book sounds like it might be the perfect place to start.


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