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The Song Of Roland

The Song Of Roland back

Michel Rabagliati


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

Originally titled Paul à Québec when it was originally released in French, this has now been re-titled for its English release. Before I read it, I did wonder why, but afterwards I realised it’s definitely a much more fitting title, as about half of the work is given over to the story of Paul’s father-in-law, the titular Roland, his gradual demise from cancer and how the family pull together to cope. Which all sounds rather depressing, but actually Michel chooses to focus on the happier elements of a life very much lived, whilst ultimately not shying away Roland’s own concluding chapter.

The reason I say it’s a much more fitting title (and I presume Michel just didn’t think of it in time for the French edition rather than any great patriotic fervour for an independent Québec, though his musings on that particular subject you will also find within these pages, along with the pains of moving house plus all the usual family and work goings-on you’d expect of a PAUL book), is that The Song Of Roland, or La Chanson de Roland if you’re in the gallique mood, is one of – if not the – oldest pieces of surviving French literature, being an epic poem about a proud warrior called Roland who refuses to blow his elephant horn to summon help from Emperor Charlemagne, when the French rearguard is attacked by the Saracens during the Battle of Roncesvalles in 778, believing they can win their particular skirmish without any help. Eventually he does blow his horn when it’s sadly too late, thinking the Emperor will see their slaughter and avenge them (which he promptly does) but Roland blows his horn so hard he suffers a brain haemorrhage and dies on the spot. There’s considerable parallels to be drawn between Paul’s father-in-law Roland, his attitude towards his illness, and the warrior Roland, ‘stoic’ being the first word that springs to mind. ‘Stubborn’, the second.

I love Michel’s easy-paced autobiographical PAUL works, for the thinly disguised autobiography they are. He seems a pretty easy-going, laid-back chap, with a similar take on life to Guy Delisle actually, but whereas Guy is off exploring remote corners off the world, Michel is just happy excavating his childhood and allowing us to explore his life in Québec. His art style is similarly relaxed, elegant with an almost cartoonish touch that also engenders a gentile feel to his works. If you do like autobiography but you’ve never tried any Paul, I do highly recommend any of his works. Don’t expect high drama or ridiculous revelations, just a very intriguing peek into someone else’s life, a life also very much lived, just in a very typical way.
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