Home > 2000, 21st Century, Canadian Literature, Côté Jacques, Crime Fiction, Polar, Quebec Literature, TBR20 > Crime fiction from Québec: Cloudy by the end of the day by Jacques Côté

Crime fiction from Québec: Cloudy by the end of the day by Jacques Côté

Cloudy by the end of the day by Jacques Côté. (2000) Original French (Québec) title: Nébulosité croissante en fin de journée. 

Nébulosité croissante en fin de journée is set in Quebec City in 1976 just before the Montreal Olympics and it’s the first installment of the Lt Daniel Duval series. Duval is a thirty-six-year-old widower living with his teenage daughter Michelle. He used to work in the Montreal police force, the SQ (Sécurité du Québec). He relocated to Québec after his wife’s death.

His partner is Louis Harel, a fat man whose personal life clashes with Duval’s. Duval runs marathons, takes care of his daughter and generally lives a quiet and healthy life. Harel gorges himself with cakes, he’s married but unfaithful and he’s now infatuated with a dancer/junkie. Duval is more respectful and intellectual than Harel. We’re in 1976, feminism is in full force and it’s another difference between the two men: Duval is a modern man, he acknowledges women’s rights and respects their fight for equality. Harel is a womanizer who objectifies women but still fell in love with his mistress Sandra. He’s the kind of man who can’t take care of himself after a divorce because he can’t iron, cook or clean after himself. The Duval/Harel duo resembles the John Kelly and Andy Sipowicz duo in the first seasons of NYPD Blue. Harel is irritating and gets on Duval’s nerves but there’s a real bond between the two.

Now that we know the detectives a bit better, the plot. When the book opens, we are introduced to a troubled young man with a big chip on his shoulder. H. has a long past as a delinquent and comes from a broken home. He lost his parents when he was a child; they died in a car accident and he went to live with his aunt. His cousin Paul was like a brother to him and H. never recovered from Paul’s death that happened during a car chase with the police. H. is fascinated by cars, speed and car wreckages.

H. got a diploma in mechanics in prison and he’s on probation working in a garage. But the other employees pick at him, he’s only doing menial tasks and he’s not using his skills as a mechanics. He gets humiliated one time too many, he fights back and gets fired. This pushes him over the edge.

He wants revenge for all the wrongs in his life and starts shooting at cars from a bridge over the boulevard Duplessis, the ring of Quebec City. Cars drive fast on this motorway and the shootings lead to car crashes. And H. loves watching car crashes, the sirens of the firetrucks and ambulances arriving on site. H. signs his crimes with 1000 Bornes game cards. He feels powerful and in control of other people’s lives.

Duval and Harel have to track down the killer who shoots at random and plays cat and mouse with them. The plot is classic crime fiction with policemen chasing after a dangerous killer. I wasn’t impressed by the plot but I loved the setting and the language.

Jacques Côté attended Quais du Polar and I had the opportunity to ask him questions about this series. I asked why he set his books in 1976. He said that he loves US crime fiction from the 1970s, the clothes and the music of that time. He wanted to give life to Quebec City in this decade.

He also said once that Quebec people are Francophones with a North American lifestyle. It stayed with me and came to my mind when I visited Québec last summer and it struck me as true when I read his book. There’s this familiarity mixed with differences. The architecture, the cars and the lifestyle make you feel like you’re in America and yet everything is in French. In appearance, it’s Anglo-Saxon and yet, you feel you’re in France when Duval can’t go to the Saint-Sacrement hospital because they’re on strike. (!!)

The French in Nébulosité croissante en fin de journée is different from the French from France, obviously. I expected a lot of different words and expressions because Quebec speakers still use old French words that we don’t use anymore but still understand. French people know Quebec Francophones as purists who refuse to use English words in their French, to protect the language. I didn’t expect all the English words or expressions I found in this novel.  I asked Jacques Côté about it and he said he did it on purpose to reflect the 1970s language. The fight to keep the French devoid of English words started after the 1970s. He also mentioned that it is a way to differentiate social classes. The working class uses a lot more of English words in their French than the upper classes.

I know it’s a paradox but I thought you needed to speak English very well to fully understand Jacques Côté. There are all these English words but more importantly all these expressions that are literally translated from the English. I knew the English under this French, so I understood but I’m not sure a French would understand them otherwise. Here are a few examples:

  • La salle de lavage se trouvait à dix mètres des casiers. In English, The laundry room was ten meters away from the lockers. In French from France, La buanderie se trouvait à dix mètres des caves. The expression salle de lavage is the literal translation of laundry room and the exact French word for it is buanderie.
  • He uses the French word pot for pot (weed) while in France we’d say herbe. Weed means mauvaise herbe in French and un pot is more a jar or a tin.
  • Il avait dormi profondément et n’avait pas entendu le damné store qu’il voulait remplacer par un voile. In English, He had slept soundly and hadn’t heard the damned blind that he wanted to replace with a curtain. In French from France: Il avait dormi profondément et n’avait pas entendu ce sacré store qu’il voulait remplacer par un rideau. You see here that the English swear word damned is replaced by the French damné, a word that exists but is only used in the religious sense in France. Ironically, the French equivalent of damned as a curse word is sacré, which means sacred. One religious word for the other!
  • Il voulut aller au Towers mais il se rappela que le juge lui avait interdit d’aller dans ce magasin à rayons. In English, He wanted to go to Towers but he remembered that the judge had forbidden him to go to this department store. In French from France, Il voulut aller à Towers mais il se rappela que le juge lui avait interdit d’aller dans ce grand magasin. Magasin à rayons is the literal translation of department store. I don’t know why Quebec speakers don’t use the word grand magasin for department store. This word exists since the 19th century, think of Au Bonheur des dames by Zola.

I find all these details fascinating and I loved tracking them down. I’m happy to have a Quebec edition of Côté’s book. Some French publishers ask to Québec writers to amend their books to better suit the French public. I don’t agree with this. I wouldn’t want a Quebec character to speak like a Parisian. It would sound artificial and it’s disrespectful for the author. We need to respect the diversity of the Francophony, it keeps the French language alive.

  1. April 23, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I find the difference between ‘french’ French and Québécois french fascinating ! As I mentioned to you , I read Bonheur d’Occasion recently and was really struck by how many ‘English constructions and words were used . The characters in that book are all working class so maybe that explains it ! It made me laugh when the young women characters called their boyfriends ‘mon steady’ which is so American !

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    • April 23, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      I have Bonheur d’occasion on the shelf, I’m looking forward to reading it. Yes, I suppose that the use of so many English words comes from the combination of the time (it was published in the 1950s) and the social class. In France, these young women would have called their boyfriends “mon bon ami”. It was a term used in the 1950s in the working class.

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  2. April 23, 2017 at 9:17 am

    The language element is fascinating. I would never pick up on any of that seeing I don’t speak French 😜 but that’s not the first time I’ve heard that Québécois French is “old fashioned”.

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    • April 23, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      I wouldn’t say that Québécois French is old fashioned. I’d say it branched out and it is fascinating to read and to hear.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. April 23, 2017 at 11:56 am

    What, no ‘styromousse’? I love this review of the book – sometimes being steeped in the period and location makes up for any plot shortcomings.

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    • April 23, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      *smashing her hand on her forehead* How could I forget about the styromousse! That’s the funniest example of all!

      For other readers who’d read this comment, here’s the story. I came accross the word styromousse in the book and mentioned it to Marina Sofia as being an oddity. It’s the exact translation of styrofoam (since foam means mousse) and it’s a word a French can’t understand without knowing the word styrofoam. In French from France, we use polystyrene.

      I had to mention this one to Jacques Côté because it’s really a perfect example of how French from Québec adapts English words or expressions, even if there’s already a French word for it. Their French is not so much under the supervision of the Académie Française who invents highbrow words coming from Greek or Latin roots.

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  4. April 23, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Great cover. How many are in the series?

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    • April 23, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Four, apparently. He also wrote historical fiction.

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      • April 23, 2017 at 7:13 pm

        I’d never heard of him.

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        • April 23, 2017 at 7:19 pm

          I don’t think that his books are translated into English, even if it’s also the language of Canada.

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