- Curative Illnesses: Medico-National Allegory in Québécois Fiction by Julie Robert
In Curative Illnesses: Medico-National Allegory in Quebec Fiction, Julie Robert offers a detailed and thorough exploration of the role played by narratives of illness in Québécois fiction. She draws on literary studies, postcolonial theory, and the medical humanities to cast into question the links between illness and the nation and create a more nuanced view of the role played by illness in Québécois literature. Robert seeks to move from a 'nation to text' reading of Québécois fiction to a 'text to nation' (p. 196) approach that seeks to understand the narratives themselves rather than what has caused the narratives to occur. [End Page 249] By moving from a space where the critic reads the illness as a diagnosis of a problem at a national level to one where they see them as coping mechanisms, Robert argues that these narratives are not the negative indictment of the idea of Québécois nationhood but rather an indication of how Quebec uses literature and other mediums to understand their past, present, and future.
Across five chapters, an introduction, and conclusion, she offers a succinct and yet effective presentation of her thesis, complete with close readings of significant texts linked to this topic. She begins by considering the 'Nation as Body', exploring the potential of performing diagnostic readings of texts and how this can help question the idea that Quebec is ill. Her second chapter underlines the oft-problematic process of diagnosis in these works and explores how this then works to problematise the link between the ill body and the nation. Chapter 3, 'Sick Doctors', turns discussion to the physicians of these texts themselves. Looking at works by Langevin, Lord, and Bernard, Robert concludes that analysis of the trope of the sick physician is key to unpicking the idea of the sick nation. The fourth chapter sees Robert identify a move towards narratives focused on treatment for illness. Identifying an explicitly political angle to the books, Robert draws parallels between the political extremes Québécois politicians and journalists advocated during the 1970s and 1980s and the illness narratives of those books published during the nationalist era. Robert achieves this through a reading of books by Godbout, Aquin, and Billon with specific reference to questions of language, performance, and rejection of earlier generic models of illness. The final chapter is entitled 'The Normal Pathographical' and Robert draws it to a close with discussion of how illness narratives might be considered functional allegories and how accepting this leads us to new readings of Quebec's illness narratives that demonstrated the role of narrative in giving a sense of agency over processes and situations one might not necessarily have control over.
Robert's book is clearly and compellingly written and offers a nuanced and engaging reading of a wide range of Québécois literature. Robert effectively questions long-standing assumptions that have been made about the role played by illness in Quebec's literary output and proposes new readings that offer alternate lenses by which we can understand the political change the province underwent in the twentieth century. [End Page 250]