[Original title: La grosse femme d'à côté est enceinte]
Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman
Fiction, 1978 (English translation, 1981)
Serpent's Tail, trade pb, 198 p.
1942, the first day of spring, and all the women on Fabre Street are pregnant. As three knitting sisters – Rose, Violette, and Mauve – cast their curious eyes over the antics of the swelling women and their loved ones, so Montreal’s most bizarre street comes to life.This is a fairly slim novel that centres on the lives of the residents of rue Fabre, in the Plateau Mont-Royal area of Montreal, and takes place during a single day. From the book flap (see above) we learn that the fat woman of the title is in fact the author’s mother when she was pregnant with him. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale and obviously a loving portrayal of his large, loud, extended family and the working class neighbourhood where he grew up. Even the grumpy, fickle, neighbourhood cat, Duplessis, was given a voice, which was quite amusing to read.
Its inhabitants include Josaphat-the-Violin who lights up the moon beneath which ladies of the night Betty Bird and Mercedes Benz patrol. There’s courtesan Ti-Lou, owner of one hundred and eight pairs of shoes and the hearts of Canada’s most powerful. There’s Pit and Laura who eat every hour of the day. And there’s the fat woman, pregnant with the author…
Tender and memorable, both a love letter to his characters and an elegiac portrayal of the street where Michel Tremblay grew up, The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant is a beautifully crafted novel by one of Canada’s most beloved writers.
Suddenly, Duplessis woke up: ‘I’m hungry!’ He stretched, yawned and jumped up onto Marie-Sylvia’s lap. She began to make him purr by stroking his striped fur. Less to make his old mistress happy than to encourage her to feed him again, in spite of all he’d eaten a few hours earlier, Duplessis rubbed against Marie-Sylvia’s chest, which she took for a sign of affection. He even went so far as to stretch out on his back on the woman’s lap, offering his belly and his fleas to her expert caresses, caresses that verged on the violent and were not unpleasant in the least. (p. 49)This is what Michel Tremblay had to say about the novel (for Canada Reads: The Book Club):
In [The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant] I send 22 characters (20 humans and 2 animals) on a journey that begins one May morning of 1942 in Montreal and finishes the same night. Each and every one of them learns something essential about his or her life, something that will change it forever.
I have to say that I had a hard time keeping all of those characters straight, especially the ones that only appeared briefly here and there. I enjoyed spending the day with these characters though, and it was interesting to read about the time period in that setting. This was my first encounter with the writing of Michel Tremblay but I understand that he wrote several other novels and plays set in the same section of Montreal, with many of the characters reappearing often. This book hasn’t made me want to rush out and read the rest of his “Chroniques du Plateau Mont-Royal” but I wouldn’t mind trying some of his other work.
The translation here seemed very good, but since the original is apparently written in “joual”, a working class dialect, I wonder if perhaps it has an added flavour that is missing in English. Still, a worthwhile read.
Video clips of the author from the CBC Archives.
First sentence: Rose, Violette and Mauve were knitting.
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My Rating: 3.5/5
(#38 for 2009, The Canadian Book Challenge 3, What's in a Name Challenge (Medical Condition), Lost in Translation Challenge)
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