Not for Every Eye

Publication: Review of Contemporary Fiction
Author: Feeney, Tim
Date published: October 1, 2011

Gérard Bessette. Not for Every Eye. Trans. Glen Shortliffe. Intra, and revised trans. Steven Urquhart. Exile Editions, 2010. 111 pp. Paper: $15.95. (Reprint)

Before moving in a more experimental direction with some of his later novels, Gérard Besserte was a chronicler of Quebec's milieu in the late fifties and sixties, a time of social change mirroring that of the U.S. in significance if not in decibels. Not for Every Eye (1960), Besserte's slim second novel, documents the Catholic Church's then-considerable influence over a small town in the province and one bookstore's surreptitious attempts at countering censorship. Hervé Jodoin, middle-aged misanthrope and serious drinker, grudgingly takes a job at the bookstore and is soon let in on its secret: it sells books that the Church has forbidden, books by "writers like Gide, Maeterlinck, Renan, Voltaire, Zola." Thus Hervé, sort of a Québécois proto-slacker, becomes embroiled in a scheme he couldn't care less about and ignites a controversy that at most he finds a little amusing. Presciently, Not for Every Eye was published the same that Quebec's Quiet Revolution began, when the Church's authority gave to secularization. A modern reader may wonder what the big deal is about a bookstore furtively selling Gide, et al. (aside from the millennial novelty of a bookstore selling them at all), but in an era of Church dominance, the social consequences could be ruinous. Hervé's sardonic attitude toward it all is pretty at the same time he telegraphs the changes to come. This edition of Not Every Eye is fleshed out with a substantial introduction, bibliographies and other resources, and questions for discussion, suggesting that Exile has its eye on classroom adoptions. It's not a bad idea- if many Americans' impression of is of a much more progressive country, Not for Every Eye is an account a time when the situation was very much the opposite. [Tim Feeney]

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