The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant
Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.
Michel Tremblay’s first novel, a slice of life from “la rue Fabre,” is the first of a quartet in progress, “Chronique du plateau Mont-Royal.” Like James Joyce and Hugh Hood, Tremblay has transformed into fable the street and quarter where he grew up. Fantasy and realism co-exist as happily as his three knitting sisters, Tremblay’s modern variation on the Greek Fates.
The fat woman of the title is the author’s mother. The large household, a miniature world, contains three families united by “Aunt Victoire,” mother of Edouard, Gabriel, and Albertine. The cousins (Albertine’s children, and the sons of Gabriel and the fat woman) inhabit a world of fighting and loving, a festival of blows and shouts and laughter which fascinates and sometimes frightens them. The evening meal is “something between a total free-for-all and The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch, each family going into it kicking and screaming.”
The vivid characters are lovable grotesques. Take Victoire, seen through the eyes of her eleven-year-old grandson: “She was an exhausted flickering candle, a dismantled gasping clock, a motor at the end of the road, a dog grown too old, a servant who had finished serving and was dying of boredom, a useless old woman, a beaten human being, his grandmother.” Tremblay has stated that he wrote the book “to tell these people how much I love them.”
The equally colourful neighbours include hookers Betty Bird and Mercedes Benz, “newshen” Marie-Sylvie, and her cat Duplessis. Even the animals in Tremblay’s world are memorable.
The style is earthy, humorous, yet lyric. Its homespun gallic flavour is beautifully contained in Sheila Fischman’s translation. Quebec’s best-known playwright has become a much-loved novelist: over 10,000 copies of The Fat Woman... have been sold in Quebec. Its warmth and wit are irresistible.