Scenes Of Childhood
Scenes of Childhood is musician Bernadette Griffin’s fictionalized memoir of growing up on rue Saint-Joachim in Quebec City in the 1940s and ’50s. (The title is a riff on Robert Schumann’s “Scenes from Childhood,” a suite of short piano pieces Griffin would know well.)
This slim set of linked tales follows the fates of a bilingual family headed by Johnny McGrath and his wife Marie-Ange Laprise, and their neighbours. In quick succession, Johnny and Marie-Ange bring six children into the world, and cram them into a series of small apartments. Johnny’s sister Francie comes to live with them for a few years. A “colourful character,” single at a time when that was more than faintly scandalous even without her dalliances with the occasional sailor, Francie seems to exist primarily as an historical foil. She provides the author with an opportunity to mention the Château Frontenac – where she works – and one of its prominent diners, Premier Maurice Duplessis.
Among other scenes are those describing the Catholic Church’s tremendous influence on daily life, a gifted but ill-fated McGrath son named Anthony, and the narrator’s life-altering piano lessons. Griffin possesses a lively facility for storytelling and a keen ear, not surprising, given her résumé. However, her approach tends to verge on the anecdotal, and frequently lapses into cliché when simple description would suffice. One gets the strong impression that this book was intended as a family record to pass on to grandchildren. The stories do have the authentic ring of a memoir, full of the extraordinary trivia that make up most family stories.
As a window into Quebec City life at that time it is small, but the author’s warmth and compassion are never in doubt. Scenes of Childhood is a cozy read. mRb