Book review: Des nouvelles d’Édouard, by Michel Tremblay

I am lucky to have an active French book club here in Sacramento. We recently read Des nouvelles d’Édouard, by Michel Tremblay – and I heartily recommend adding it to your list.

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We take turns suggesting books for our next meeting, and this one came with the very simple description of being “a novel about a man from Montreal who travels to Paris.” Imagine my surprise when the prologue establishes our hero as an aging drag queen! Édouard inherits a sum of money from his mother and decides to go to France to make his dream come true; he documents the ocean voyage as a journal to his sister-in-law, in lieu of letters.

Édouard’s homosexuality certainly crops up as a theme in his notes, but only a minor one, really. His struggles to meet someone are the same for everyone, no matter your preferences.

What really stood out to me was the difficulty he had with social class. His ticket to Paris was bought with a small inheritance, and clearly he could never have afforded it otherwise on his salary as a shoe salesman. I was thrilled when he went all out, opting for first class, to better study the habits of the highfalutin people he normally only interacted with by serving. In some ways, he enjoys it; in other ways, he doesn’t.

“On est toujours le nobody de quelqu’un d’autre!”

Besides wrestling with how to come across as “Kultured” to the upper-class women on board without being totally bored out of his skull, Édouard has to deal with the aggressive sexism of the men assigned to his first-class dining table. And that’s on top of all your standard culture shock issues.

Des nouvelles d’Édouard is full of laugh-out-loud one-liners. It was the most fun book I’ve read all year, truly.

I should warn you, this was a divisive selection for our club. Those of us who loved it had a lot of fun with it; others just didn’t connect with the author’s sarcasm or criticism of France. In case this one doesn’t sound quite like your cup of tea, keep in mind that Des nouvelles d’Édouard is 4th in a series of 6 semi-autobiographical novels by Michel Tremblay; each works fine as a stand-alone, and I hear the others are even better, and a bit different.

What good books have you picked up lately? What’s the last surprising thing you’ve read? Share in the comments below!

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