Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review - The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay

A glimpse of Quebecor culture in the 1940s

The budding of spring, a time for enlightenment and new beginnings, casts the mood for this beautiful and haunting tale told through magical realism, and reverent love for family, a place and a time. Michel Tremblay’s passion for his beginnings is shared with us through a day in the life of the residents of la rue Fabre in the heart of Montreal in the ‘40s, with the fat lady next door paying homage to his beloved mother.

The mystical sisters, Rose, Violette and Mauve, have sat in their rocking chairs knitting booties for generations of the past, and persevere for seven babies soon to be, the magical triple clicking of their needles a necessity for continuum. Helplessly driven by a predetermined pattern, they are merely observers to the struggles of their tormented neighbours, as they sit with instruments in their hands and compassion in their hearts.

The eccentric and opposing personalities Tremblay presents us with intermingle through the pages amidst their willful ignorance, blinding judgements, and suffocating shame. These transgressions, perpetuated by the shadow of a stifling religion, a begrudged war, combined with a lack of imagination, serve to disquiet them as they struggle to find their footing on the soft ground of the changing season.

The Fat Women Next Door is Pregnant although brimming with delicious prose, did prove to be a difficult read at times. The compilation of 22 distinctly different, three-dimensional characters – a supercilious cat, a matriarchal witch, the she-wolf of Ottawa – and a writing style with no regard to paragraphs or a properly referenced dialogue, left my head swirling on more than one occasion. Seemingly each and every character begged to have their depth explored and their connection with the reader furthered, and as such, I think the story would have been better served as an elaborate, 800-page epic.

Aside from this, I came away from the novel with the feeling that ‘family’ is the true essence of our being, as through all of the chaos and ridicule that can be found on these pages, the love that emits from this clan is a fortress of undeniable strength and authenticity. By the end of the story you’re sure to have a fondness in your heart for the fat woman next door.

4/5 Snakes


  1. I just got this from the library so didn't read the whole review. I like to read reviews after I've finished the book. But I'm glad you reviewed it. I tried to read the five books for Canada Reads but the waiting lists were so long at the library, some of the books are just arriving now. I did read The Outlander and Mercy Among the Children before the deadline though and liked them both. I loved the second one the most.

  2. I am the same way Sandra. I like to read the book, write my review and then read other reviews. I hope you'll come back and finish this one when you're done.

    I had the same issue with the Canada Reads books, and I was only able to get Fruit, Mercy and The Fat Woman in time. I have The Outlander on my shelf which is due back next week, so I'll have to get on that one. As for The Book of Negroes, I've yet to read it, but I broke down and bought it. The waiting list is insane, and I figure it must be good if it beat out Mercy, so why not buy it and support a Canadian author.

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on some of these. ; )