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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Autumn Rounds

Jacques Poulin

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To purchase Autumn Rounds

Title: Autumn Rounds
Author: Jacques Poulin
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 194 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Autumn Rounds - US
Autumn Rounds - UK
Autumn Rounds - Canada
La tournée d'automne - Canada
La tournée d'automne - France
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Archipelago Books
  • French title: La tournée d'automne
  • Translated by Sheila Fischman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nice little summer story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today . Winter/1995 Steven Daniell

  From the Reviews:
  • "La tournée d'automne builds around three interrelated passions: for books, for nature, and for another person. (...) As with other Poulin novels, the style of La tournée d'automne is both understated and enchanting. Amusing appearances by Jack Waterman (from Volkswagen Blues) and the occasional hungry cat punctuate the novel's bittersweet tone." - Steven Daniell, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The central figure in Autumn Rounds is simply called the Driver. As he explains:

     "People call me the Driver. I have a van full of books -- a bookmobile. My job is lending books."
       He is an employee of the (provincial) Ministry of Culture, who supply the books. Three times a year he makes the rounds, traveling to small villages between Quebec City, where he lives, and the North Shore, reaching communities too small to have their own libraries. Each community has its own little network, sharing the books they borrow from the bookmobile among themselves -- though it's also entirely open to the general public: any passer-by is welcome to take books. The Driver doesn't collect the borrowed books -- though people can return them to him, or donate their own books, if they want to --; instead, people are asked to mail the books back to the Ministry when they're done with them. If and when books go missing, it's no problem; the Driver -- and the Ministry -- seem most interested in seeing that the books circulate, reaching as many interested readers as possible. There's no bureaucracy for users, no library cards to show or forms to fill out: they can just browse in the van, and take whatever appeals to them, and hold onto that for however long they like; in many ways it's like a free library box, just bigger, mobile, and manned.
       It's all very easygoing, without rigid rules, a set schedule, or paperwork -- to the extent also that:
     The Ministry left it up to him to decide. when to set out. Over the years they had shown more and more confidence in this rather eccentric driver who combined the diligence of a civil servant with the capriciousness of a nomad.
       At the beginning of the novel, before the Driver has set out on his summer round, he meets a visiting Frenchwoman, who had come to Quebec with a troupe of performers. They'd been invited to perform at a local festival, and are now planning on traveling around Quebec for a bit. Marie and the Driver strike up an easygoing friendship, and the performers come to set out on a trip that loosely follows the Driver's route. They don't exactly travel together all the time, but they repeatedly meet up, with Marie joining the Driver at various points, or going on outings with him.
       It's all very carefree and uncommitted. The Driver has his set route, and the stops he has to make, but there's no strict schedule, and he moves relatively freely. The troupe, too, head off pretty much wherever strikes their fancy.
       The Driver and Marie find themselves to be soulmates -- "We're practically twins", the Driver tells a friend of his. And, as he tells Marie as they get to know one another:
     "You talk like me. You say, 'of course' and 'Sure.' And you've read the same books I have ... How come we're so much alike, you and I ?"
       This summer trip was already set to be a significant one for the Driver, as he had decided that it would be his last -- something he also explains to Marie. And in an otherwise very sunny -- if always tinged with a bit of melancholy -- novel, one dark shadow looms, as the Driver has two chests in the cab of his truck, one with rejected manuscripts -- unpublished books -- that some of his readers like to have a look at, and another which contains tools as well as one distinctive item which, while normally benign, is, in the specificity with which it is described, clearly intended only for one kind of use. Yes, clearly some darker thoughts also haunt our protagonist -- though he never comes across as outright depressed.
       The title kind of gives away where all this is going, despite all his talk about this summer round being his last, and Autumn Rounds gets there in charming, lowest-key fashion. The story rambles along easily enough, with a fair amount of book-talk -- including many titles mentioned and listed -- but none of it heavy going, and with the episodes all fairly simple, life puttering on in the more or less usual ways. Cats drop by, there are some lovely sights along the way, and Marie and the Driver effortlessly sink into a deeper and deeper relationship.
       It makes for a nice entertainment, with nothing forced about it -- a story that just naturally flows, and doesn't try too much. But Poulin's restraint nevertheless manages to incorporate a lot -- without ever even tending towards the ponderous. He has a unique style and approach, and Autumn Rounds fits in very much with his other work; so many authors try way too hard with so many aspects of their work, but Poulin is unambitious in exactly the right way -- making also here again for a very agreeable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 April 2022

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Autumn Rounds: Reviews: Other books by Jacques Poulin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French-Canadian author Jacques Poulin was born in 1937.

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© 2022 the complete review

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