A girl with big dreams; a little boy manqué

Photo by Madelayne Hajek.
Photo by Madelayne Hajek.

Mister Roger and Me by Marie-Renée Lavoie is not one of those action-based novels where every chapter ends with a bang.

Those craving high stakes and breathtaking battles between good and evil will not be sated. Instead, this novel, translated from the French by Wayne Grady, explores life through the eyes of a child and tells of the unlikely friendship that develops between this child and an elderly man.

With humour and sensitivity, the author explores the complexities of growing up in an ‘80s working-class atmosphere. Hélène, who goes by the name Joe, is not your average eight year-old but a “little boy manqué” who claims to be ten and wishes she were a boy.

Dazzled by her favourite television heroine, Lady Oscar, (a show she promptly watches from 4:00 to 4:24) Hélène dreams of nothing but adventure.

“Twenty-three kilos, holding back a mind that was always trying to run off to faraway, pitiless realms,” Hélène says,

With her keen insights, Hélène is an endearing character constantly seeking out ways to help her family with their financial and moral crises. Young yet mature; she works as a paper-girl, a waitress at the Bingo Hall and has responsibilities as both an older sister and a student.

It is no wonder that a friendship forms between this shrewd character and her next-door neighbour Roger. Roger is an old drunken man who grunts, burps and shouts loud enough for all to hear that he just wants to die. But together these characters discover that you don’t need to be a hero to be heroic.

The novel successfully unfolds each character’s personality, revealing a realistic and relatable person. Their qualities, faults and quirks on the page make it impossible for the reader not to smile.

Wayne Grady’s translation does not conform the story to the English language but rather embraces the French dialect and rhythm. It maintains the cultural flair in an original way, where both languages are not in competition with each other but enhance one another. The way this story is written presents a welcome reprieve for those wanting more than a traditional English novel. The unique sentence structure preserves its French origins while still allowing for clarity and fluidity in the storytelling.

Mister Roger and Me is Marie-Renée Lavoie’s first novel. It won the Quebec’s Prix Archambault as well as the Radio-Canada’s Battle of the Books competition in its original French version. With the release of the English version, it will be interesting to see the audience’s reaction to this translation.

Mister Roger and Me is available as of Sept 29.


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