Sacré Blues

Taras Grescoe

Read September 2003

Grescoe writes what he calls an “unsentimental” examination of Québec. Indeed, While he discusses the province's political baggage in detail, he steers relatively clear of the shenanigans of the 1990s, seeming to want to let time judge these events more clearly. (He does, however, discuss the impact of similar movements in the 1970s, and how they subsequently plunged Québec into a funk by severely damaging its business and internnational profile.)

The early portions of this book are rather slow going. They plod along through predictable the hand-wringing: is it American or is it French? A pity, because the book comes alive about a third of the way in, as Grescoe lets loose his good powers of observation, combined with a fluid writing style. In particular, he begins to narrate detail, building up theories from observations of specifics. This has the benefit of being informative even if the theories don't stick. For instance, he talks about Montreal's insane moving-day tradition, the imported bugs in fancy high-rise apartments, street clearing in the winter months and, most entertainingly, Québec's stock of swear-words. He also offers an entertaining if far-fetched theory for the greater purity of Montreal's French than that of Paris!

All things considered, it isn't a particularly unsentimental journey, even if it isn't exactly an upbeat one. Grescoe, who hails from Anglophone Canada, seems to really want to like this province (perhaps not a common sentiment amongst his compatriots?). But Grescoe leaves us with a rather bleary view of a province that will have to be very careful to not fall into decline.

[Supplement: I read this book shortly before visiting Montreal in October 2003. I can't say as it had a significant tangible experience, but it did inform me well (many street names, for instance, came alive!) and I'd recommend it to a fellow visitor.]