Charles the Bold

Publisher: Douglas Gibson Books
Possibly the greatest novel published in Canada in 2004 — the first in a historic series.

It’s as if Dickens or Balzac — or Rohinton Mistry — had decided to write the book that summed up life in east-end Montreal. This is the first volume of a quartet that has taken Quebec by storm, selling over forty-five thousand copies.

On the very first page, we meet Charles Thibodeau being born. It’s 1966 and the rest of Montreal is more excited by the fact that a new subway system is opening, but his birth is a big event for Charles’s parents and for their working-class neighbours.

Sadly, Charles’s mother dies when he is four, her funeral interrupted by War Measures Act soldiers on the streets. Soon young Charles, like a younger Huck Finn, is fending for himself. While he adopts a stray dog, Boff, in turn he is taken away from his drunken, violent father and becomes part of the Fafard family nearby.

His adventures follow thick and fast — at school, where he avoids becoming a teacher’s pet, despite being smart, in a part-time job where he encounters a pederast, and at summer camp, where he establishes himself as a rebel. By the end of the book, he has fully earned his title, Charles the Bold, leaving us eager to follow his further adventures.

But the real hero of this book is Montreal, and its scores of memorable, lively characters who leap off the page. Like Gabrielle Roy in The Tin Flute, Yves Beauchemin has given us an unforgettable portrait of life in the francophone east end — with more to come in this ambitious and richly rewarding saga.

From the Hardcover edition.


“One of the great works of Canadian literature.”
— Madeleine Thien

“You’re in good hands with one of Canada’s best storytellers.”
Winnipeg Free Press

Charles the Bold is a daring, fascinating, funny, intense, sad story. Occasionally it’s frustrating, and occasionally it’s predictable. In other words, the story is as daring, fascinating, funny, intense, sad, frustrating, and predictable as Quebec. In fact, the novel can be read as one extended metaphor about Quebec and the independence movement. . . . Another way to read this novel is as an adventure, like the adventure novels Charles reads to escape his fractured world. One character even tells him: ‘You’re like some hero in a novel!’ But this puts too narrow a scope on a novel of such depth of field and shifting focus.”
– Raymond Beauchemin, Montreal Gazette

“Charles is a kind of Oliver Twist and this is a very Dickensian story with a peculiarly Quebecois spin. . . . We’re willingly drawn along on the narrative, bouncing from episode to episode as Charles ages. The near-magical coincidences of history with the turning points in Charles’s life, together with the sentimentally charged symbols, characters and events, give this book a sparkle that counterbalances the tragedies and drudgeries Charles endures. This is a book to be read for the pleasure of it, for the characters we come to know and worry over, for the genuine suspense of all his childhood crises.”
– Michel Basilières, Toronto Star

“Beauchemin’s exceedingly readable and enchanting novel brings to life an indomitable child who survives and prospers despite his rough crossing. . . . A consummate storyteller, Beauchemin has been compared to Dickens, Rabelais and Balzac – just the captain to navigate us through the rough waters of an unforgettable character’s life.”
– Elizabeth Johnston, Globe and Mail

Charles the Bold is a truly astonishing work. A beautifully crafted portrait of the artist as a young child, of a boy seeking shelter in a world over which he holds little power, and of a Quebec awakening to a new political reality. From the yellow dog to Fernand Fafard, this is a novel overflowing with unforgettable characters. I never wanted it to end, and when it did, I wanted to leap immediately into Wayne Grady’s luminous translation of the next volume. I only hope that Charles the Bold will claim its place as one of the great works of Canadian literature.”
– Madeleine Thein

“The book of the fall! A literary event.”
Le Soleil