Volkswagen Blues is a French-language novel by French-Canadian writer Jacques Poulin, his sixth, which was originally published by Québec-Amérique in 1984 and was re-issued by Babel in 1998.
Volkswagen Blues was translated into English by Sheila Fischman and published by McClelland & Stewart in 1988 and subsequently re-issued by Cormorant Books in 2002. Volkswagen Blues was nominated for the Governor General's Award for French-language fiction at the 1984 Governor General's Awards and was one of the selected novels in the 2005 edition of Canada Reads, where it was championed by author and former National Librarian of Canada, Roch Carrier.Plot
Volkswagen Blues is a road novel, in the tradition of Jack Kerouac, about a middle-aged, formerly successful writer who has adopted the pen-name Jack Waterman (a metonymy can play on Waterman pens) and, as the novel begins, is experiencing a bout of writer's block. Discovering an old postcard, the protagonist embarks on a quest in search of his long-lost, rambling brother, Théo. Early in the narrative, Jack picks up a hitchhiker, a young Métisse woman, nicknamed "La Grande Sauterelle" due her long, grasshopper-like legs, as a travel companion, as well as a cat named Chop Suey.
Together in Jack's Volkswagen Minibus, which through personification becomes a character in the story, they travel from Gaspé to San Francisco, passing through Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis and the American West on their way, exploring the history of European contact with the native people of the Americas. While on the road, they discuss language, literature, American expansion, the Oregon Trail, etc., and their trip becomes an allegory for the history of the French exploration of North America. At the same time, La Grande Sauterelle, who is struggling with her own identity, presents another version of American history, as recounted by the natives, where "discovery" is viewed as "invasion." Throughout the episodic novel a number of interesting and entertaining characters appear, including journalists, museum directors, railroad hoboes and writers such as Saul Bellow and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as the spirit of Ernest Hemingway, John Muir and the Beat Generation.
All in all, Jack's journey through an America that scholar Paul Socken describes as a "lost paradise" is one of disillusionment and self-discovery that allows him to break through the impasse he had met in his writing.See also
- Paul G. Socken, The Myth of the Lost Paradise in the Novels of Jacques Poulin. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1993.
- Anne Marie Miraglia, L'Ecriture de l'Autre chez Jacques Poulin. Editions Balzac, 1993.
- Roger Hyman. "Writing against Knowing, Writing against Certainty; or What's Really under the Veranda in Jacques Poulin's Volkswagen Blues": Journal of Canadian Studies 34.3 (1999).
- Jean Morency, et al., Romans de la route et voyages identitaires. Québec: Nota Bene (collection "Terre américaine"), 2006.
- Prix Gilles-Corbeil («Nobel québécois») 2008 announcement (in French)