by Sylvain Hotte
Les Éditions Goélette, 2013
Ever wondered what it would be like to say goodbye to the daily grind in the city and move to the country for a simpler life? In Sylvain Hotte’s Terre à bois (Wood lot) that’s exactly what Alain Demers decides to do when life hands him an opportunity to buy a cheap plot of land that seems too good to be true.
However, life in the country doesn’t turn out to be quite as idyllic as Alain had hoped. He runs into every problem imaginable as he pours blood, sweat, and tears into renovating his cabin, and soon finds himself running out of cash. What’s more, the mayor of the town, Réal Fortier, a ruthless businessman who seems to have the whole town on his payroll or in his pocket, has it in for Alain and goes to great lengths to make his life a misery.
The town is full of colourful characters, most of whom seem to have hidden agendas, including Claude, the priest who seems friendly enough, plying Alain with fine wine only to later hurl an iron horseshoe at his head. Then there’s trigger-happy Sonia, the mayor’s wife who “accidentally” fires a shotgun at Alain, taking a chunk of his ear away, and Mireille, the doctor’s assistant who seems hell-bent on inflicting as much pain as possible on Alain with her syringe.
In fact, Alain’s only friend seems to be his neighbour Dean Morisette, an eccentric character to say the least. Alain soon finds himself dragged into Dean’s shady shenanigans and, only a few weeks after leaving the city, is barely recognizable as he nurses his various injuries, grows a long beard and shaggy hair, and begins to think of personal hygiene as an option.
All of this makes for an entertaining read with some interesting commentary on contemporary Quebec. The author’s descriptions of women in his novel are particularly imaginative, albeit not necessarily flattering.
Terre à bois is a riot from start to finish that will have readers in stitches at the wildly colourful descriptions of life in small-town Canada (and the characters who live there) and cringing at Alain’s misfortune, wondering what could possibly go wrong for him next. Still think it’s such a good idea to move out of town for a quiet life?
Review by David Warriner
Read an excerpt in translation here.