A foray into the world of military training, both so close to and so far from the clichés we know!
On the one hand, there is the camaraderie, the discipline, the “always ready” for all the missions – wars, cataclysms or CHSLDs.
On the other side, in the clichés department, there is the implacable “no quarter”: neither for oneself nor for others, even those of his troop.
Jean-François Vaillancourt delivers all this in his novel Esprit de corps. But he adds something that often escapes us when it comes to the military: a way of life that is based on language and rituals, and which is fueled by youth.
Vaillancourt knows this firsthand as he grew up near military bases and was a reservist for seven years. Since then, he has become … a doctoral student in literature!
His novel also thwarts expectations: there is neither glorification nor condemnation of the military world. Just real highlighted.
So we meet at the base in Gagetown, New Brunswick, for the summer training camp for two groups of recruits: on the one hand, the Anglos, on the other the Francophones – mainly Quebecers.
The other side of the coin
The forces involved are not equal: some 70 for the former, 25 for the others. And it is in their interest (the readers too!) To have a good knowledge of English because we often speak to them in this language!
The camp lasts 14 weeks and various notions will be put into practice: survival techniques, the search of a building, the handling of explosives …
The characters, numerous, are too jumbled up to be attached to them. Likewise, there are women, blacks among them, but these details are forgotten in the flood of surnames and nicknames which circulate over the pages.
This process is at first stunning, until we realize how much it is part of the subject: everyone is there to become a soldier inseparable from the rest of the troop, so personal identity must be erased. for the benefit of “we”.
And of the group we will retain the youth. The one that multiplies the playfulness, the funny as well as the bad taste, and pushes the limits to … the absurd.
Because there is something to wonder in front of push-ups in series, the O Canada sung in all tones, or the blind intransigence of some officers. Halfway through the novel, the question arises: but how do we come to accept all this?
This is where Vaillancourt sneaks in to tell the story of the seduction of the army kiosks, the support for studies, the promises of the future, the cool weekend camps …
When the back of the beautiful sides is visible, it is because the recruit is now in Gagetown, stuck in the mud because it does not stop raining.
Once there, we might as well stay, for good or until the end of summer. And certainly until the end of this really special first novel!