The rise and fall of a political R

The cover illustration of a biography on fomer premier and Parti Quebecois founder René Lévesque provides a telling picture of the content of the book, released as part of Penguin’s Extraodinary Canadians series.

Offering a full portrait of Lévesque, artist Andre Dubois paints in a peculiar manner, giving a synecdochal description of the premier’s life.
With chapters entitled “The Dimming Star,’ and “Heart Matters,’ Poliquin tells the smaller stories of Lévesque’s life which made him the man he is remembered as. These chapters individually sum up the characteristics of Lévesque. Although offered in a seemingly sporadic manner, the character sketch evolves into a chronological charting of Lévesque.
The biography is fairly brief and, beyond his formative years growing up in New Carlisle in the Gaspé Peninsula, deals almost solely with his political life &- only mentioning tidbits of information from his personal affairs when they influence or complicate his public life.
The plotline follows Lévesque as he rises and falls in the political spotlight; from when he enters with the Quebec Liberal Party, to when he jumps ship to create the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association (the political outfit that grew into the PQ), until his departure from politics in 1985.

The perspective of the narration is speculative at best for the better half of the novel, with Poliquin seeming to flip-flop with his personal commentary on sovereignty, but eventually identifying himself as outsider looking in (Poliquin is Franco-Ontarian).
At just over 200 pages, the biography is a good read for anyone looking for an overview of the former PQ leader’s life and a chronology of Quebec’s provincial politics from his entrance in 1960.
If nothing else, the book provides several trivial facts that are fun to know: Lévesque was born at the Hôtel-Dieu in Campbellton, New Brunswick, caucus is an Algonquin word &- not Latin &- and Lévesque had two favourite countries: America and Quebec.


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