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Tall tales and telling truths
Tales from the Uncertain Country and Other Stories is a collection of 41 contes or short stories by the French Canadian author Jacques Ferron (1921–1985). Although Ferron is considered among the most celebrated authors of modern Quebec literature, his numerous novels, plays, short stories, essays and poetry are little known outside French speaking Canada.
In this collection of tall stories local folk lore and geography combine with themes of religion, death and what it is to be a doctor. Most stories relate to the inhabitants of the community in which he worked but others are more bizarre and include a bull turning into a lawyer, a lonely cow's ghost longing for lost traditions and a bear emerging from hibernation leading a column of abandoned blind lunatics to freedom. My favourite character is Aunt Donatienne, a ‘proper lady, literally tight cheeked to say the least’ who after the death of her parrot assumed his party trick of showing off her ‘poor frilly behind’ to all and sundry (page 59). Having struggled at times to assimilate the many unfamiliar references to localities, political and religious figures in these fantastical tales, this story made me laugh out loud—only later did I reflect on the pathos of this description of isolation and dementia.
Jacques Ferron qualified as a doctor in 1943 and practised medicine for 40 years. After a brief period in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, he lived in a wild coastal region of Quebec, the setting of many of his stories and where he was denounced from the pulpit as a communist. He then moved to live and …
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