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Gérard Bessette: Le Libraire (Not for Every Eye)

Mr. Jodoin has recently left his employment as a teacher at a religious school and, down to his last fifty dollars, is in search of other employment. Fortunately, at the labour exchange, a former classmate is in charge and is able to find him employment as a bookseller (the French title means bookseller and not library/librarian) in the only book shop in the small town of Saint-Joachin. Mr. Jodoin seems to lead a pretty dull life. He used to read – indeed seems to have read the important works – but no longer does so. All he does with his life is drink. After work, he heads straight for the local bar where he drinks till one in the morning and then goes to bed. It is not even social drinking as he rarely converses with the other patrons of the bar. His life is made slightly (but only slightly) more exciting by a brief affair with his landlady (who is separated from her husband but, as a good Catholic, not divorced). However, he soon tires of her and, indeed, spends the weekend at the local railway station to get away from her.

The only real excitement is in his job. Jodoin is not curious. Indeed, he is rather indifferent to his job and to life. However, Léon Chicoine, owner of the book shop that bears his name, voluntarily shares with Jodoin his secret – the locked cupboard where he keeps books which local custom prevents him from displaying on the shelves. These are not porno or, rather, the ones we learn about are not, but rather books that, according to the strict Catholic conservative morals of the local community, may be considered risqué, such as Gide, Zola and Voltaire. Jodoin finds that certain customers are aware of this treasure trove and come in and ask for specific books and that he is able to sell them. One day, however, a student comes in and asks for L’Essai sur les moeurs. As the boy seems serious, to know what he wants and why and is not interested in the book for merely prurient reasons, Jodoin sells it to him. Jodoin characterizes it as a very dull book and, while I would not necessarily agree, I would hardly characterise it as harmful. [It is by Voltaire and gives his views on human progress and the Enlightenment.]

Jodoin does not think twice about his sale of the book but the local priest does and soon hellfire and brimstone break loose and Chicoine’s book shop is in trouble, with rumours of local vigilantes coming to seize the cache of hidden books. Jodoin cleverly takes full advantage of the situation, offering to help dispose of the books. He sells them at a profit to a Montreal bookseller and gets paid for his troubles, knowing full well Chicoine can do nothing about it. Jodoin is the ultimate amoral person. He seems to have no concern for anyone else, except for his own short-term comfort and convenience. But what makes this book enjoyable is his witty cynicism and the fact that Bessette passes no judgement on him. He is what he is and we can take him or leave him.

Publishing history

First published 1960 by René Julliard, Paris
First published in English 1977 by Macmillan Co. of Canada
Translated by Glen Shortliffe