Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Les Belles Souers by Michel Tremblay

I had the good fortune to have a book blogger give me this play as a Santa exchange.  It has taken me a little time to get to it, but I'm so glad I finally got to it. 

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Germaine Lauzon has won a million trading stamps from a department store. Her head swimming with dreams of refurbishing and redecorating her working-class home from top to bottom with catalogue selections ranging from new kitchen appliances to 'real Chinese paintings on velvet' she invites fourteen of her friends and relatives in the neighbourhood over to help her paste the stamps into booklets.

Raucous, reckless and rude, the women shamelessly share their most secret hopes and fears, complain stridently about their friends and relatives, fantasize wistfully about escaping the misogynist drudgery of their lives and surreptitiously tuck most of the stamps into their purses and clothing, self-righteously appropriating what they consider to be Germaine’s 'illegitimate' good fortune."

Review:  Billed as representing French-speaking Quebec, with their own working-class culture being stamped on the play, I really was quite intrigued.  I can't say that I've read anything that was said to represent that culture, nor do I know much about it.  In short, this was a pleasure to branch out and give a go.

Germaine seems like an image of a 1950's housewife, with her desire to redecorate her home and do it all on the trading stamps she won from the local department store.  I suppose that I imposed my own cultural image on the play, as I pictured my own grandmothers and their green stamp coupon books.  In fact, I would bet that we could find a half-filled book or two stashed in boxes or somewhere in their homes.  Those stamps offered a payback to their loyal customers, and my grandmothers kept their own stash.

The one thing that I found interesting about this play, however, was the way that Tremblay gave a wider snapshot of these working-class women and their little neighborhood through the captured scene around the table as they filled books with stamps.  When one or another made a little dig or put on airs above their peers, that's when the passive-aggressive claws came out.  In the airs they put on, you could see the truths they were hiding of regret, misfortune, and unmet desires.  You had to feel for all of the characters.  And really, how cruel was it to ask these women to help her, Germaine, to fill all her coupon books with her mass winnings.  Of course they would be jealous and catty.

This was a fun, quick, and interesting little play.  It is deceptively light on the surface, with plenty of depth to keep you thinking.  If you haven't read a play in awhile, I definitely recommend you give this one a try.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a personal copy of the play.


  1. So glad you liked it. I wasn't sure when I picked it out, but I loved this play (it was required reading in my French high school) as Tremblay is considered one of the masters of Quebec language French and is studied in our schools here.

    I love everything he does and he is still going strong today.

    Thank you for your great review and yes, Tremblay does explore our French Quebec society honestly - with all the good and the bad :)

    1. Thank you so much for sending this my way! I lost any identification to go along with it, so I wasn't sure who gave it to me. I'm so glad you stopped in to remind me! :) Thank you again. It was a perfect read for me lately and I really did enjoy it.

  2. I've heard of Tremblay, but I've never read anything by him. This is a fun gift to get!

    1. I think you would really like it. It was a great play, with a lot of humor & depth at the same time.