A heartfelt masterpiece about the joys of travel, reading, and companionship.
In rural Canada, dotted along the coast of a vast mauve river, live villagers of different stripes: a recently divorced hydroplane pilot, a factory-worker who closely resembles her fisherman husband, a probing motorcyclist with a pet St. Bernard, a pair of beautiful blonde joggers, and other curious characters.
For all their differences, each is brought together by a soft-spoken man, referred to only as “the Driver,” who travels up and down the coast each season, delivering books to areas not served by libraries and listening closely to the villager’s tales and to their woes.
This summer tour is bound to be different than all the rest. The Driver has made friends with a traveling band of musicians, jugglers, artists, and acrobats who decide to come along for a ride that the Driver has privately decided will be his last.
Jacques Poulin’s compassionate prose delves into the hidden pains of aging and loss without losing sight of the tremendous joy that can be found in making the world a little more livable for other people.
About the authors
Jacques Poulin, born in 1938 in Saint-Gédéon-de-Beauce, Quebec, is one of the leading novelists of his generation. Author of over a dozen novels, including Volkswagen Blues which introduced him to a wider American and Canadian audience he has received many prizes.
Award-winning translator Sheila Fischman has translated over 150 Quebec novels from French to English, including Michel Tremblay, Marie-Claire Blais and Kim Thúy. She is a recipient of the Molson Prize for the Arts.
Excerpt: Autumn Rounds (by (author) Jacques Poulin; translated by Sheila Fischman)
THE BRASS BAND
He opened the window so he could hear the music better. It was
a marching tune played on brass instruments and drums. He
leaned outside, but it was coming from the other end of the Terrasse
Dufferin. The weather was fine so he decided to go out and have a
look. He went down the five floors.
In the distance he saw a crowd in front of the Château Frontenac.
He went up and joined them. The band consisted of a handful of
musicians, along with jugglers, clowns, a woman singer and a black
The singer was finishing her song. He couldn’t help smiling: it
was “La Java bleue.” The crowd picked up the refrain. There was
applause and the singer, who was wearing a long green dress with
gold sequins, made a comical bow. Then the musicians put away
their instruments and leaned against the guardrail of the Terrasse.
He stood next to them so he could hear what they were saying.
They had come from France at the invitation of the Festival d’Été.
It was their first visit to Quebec City. They’d probably been there for
a few days already because they seemed very familiar with the broad
bay that spread before them, with the south shore, the Beauport Hill,
the Île d’Orléans nestled in the arms of the St. Lawrence River, and
the mountains of Charlevoix far away on the horizon. They didn’t
hide their admiration of the expanse of this landscape.
From the corner of his eye he noted that the person leaning on
the guardrail to his right was a woman. She had a white T-shirt
jeans of a blue that was neither too pale nor too dark – exactly the
way he liked them.
She turned towards him.
“The view is magnificent!” she said warmly. Her voice was
“It is,” he said.
“I thought that the Rhône was a great river but this one is much
“Do you live in the Rhône valley?”
“Quite close. Near a small town called Tournon. Do you know
He nodded. The woman came closer. She had curly grey hair and
a bony face like Katharine Hepburn’s. A beautiful face. A mixture
of tenderness and strength.
“Are you with the band?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “but I’m not a musician. I handle bookings,
reservations – all the practical details. I’m a little . . .”
“A little . . . everybody’s mother?”
She smiled very sweetly.
“Do you like cats?” he asked abruptly. Then right away, he wished
he hadn’t asked, he waved his hand as if to tell her not to worry about
it. He looked at her to see if her face had changed but no, she was
“My name is Marie,” she said.
He coughed to clear his throat.
“People call me the Driver. I have a van full of books – a bookmobile.
My job is lending books.”
“Do you have a regular route?”
“Yes. I visit the small villages between Quebec City and the North
Shore. It’s a big territory . . . I make one round in the spring, one in
summer and one in the autumn.”
He had trouble getting out the last word and his face darkened.
The woman looked at him more closely. He turned his head, peered
out at the misty horizon. They stood there in silence, side by side;
they were the same height and they both had grey hair.
The members of the band moved away from the guardrail and
gathered up their belongings.
“I have to go,” said Marie. There’s another show tonight. Will
“All right . . . I was late for the last one. I got here at the end.”
“I know. I saw you.”
She didn’t answer. Her eyes were greyish blue and slightly
“It’s at nine o’clock,” she said. “Right near here, on the little
square called . . .”
“Yes. There are trees so we can set up the high wire. The name of
the tightrope walker is Slim. At night it’s really wonderful.”
She left and joined the others.
It was five p.m. by the post office clock. He took a few steps in
the direction of his place and then turned around, but the band had
already disappeared. He bought an ice cream cone at the big stand
on the Terrasse.
"Poulin continues his oeuvre of quiet, unimposing fiction with this delicate tale of a Quebec City bookmobile owner whose solitary life is upended after he meets an alluring woman . . . Narrated in ponderous, poetic prose, the brief text successfully harnesses a range of themes, made potent by the melancholy mix of the Driver’s fear of aging and the lure of romance. Poulin once again shows his knack for grace and nuance."
"Poulin’s novel offers a deeply felt meditation on loneliness, age, and the improbability of human connection."
"Rich with humor, reflection, and the almost palpable magic of books, Autumn Rounds is a novel that explores an intimate yet expansive landscape."
--Foreword Reviews (starred review)
"What a luminous little book this is. Nothing could have made me happier than to have it transport me to its realm. Long may its motivations reign—the sheer love of books, an informed awe at the natural world. I felt I was my better self for having read it."
"One of my favorite writers in the world is Jacques Poulin."
"One of the finest and most underrated novelists in Québec."
--The Globe and Mail
"Poulin shares a mix of detached humor, fantasy, and compassion with Vonnegut and Salinger."
"For decades Poulin has been teaching us that great literature can be about small things: the language of love and the love of language, the pleasure of solitude and the grief of loneliness, the value of work and the importance of play. While each of his novels stands on its own, together they create a world that is instantly recognizable and immediately endearing."
--Alyson Waters, Yale University
"Poulin is a master of imagery and dialogue: they rest like froth on top of something much more murky and morose: an underlying fear of emptiness."
"Autumn Rounds is a subtle, beguiling novel about books and nature, a meditation on forming connections and finding love late in life that has the feel of a travelogue, both charming and melancholy at the same time . . . It’s a bittersweet, quietly powerful novel, a soothing balm for the soul, and there’s something about the goodness and kindness of the people within its pages that touches the heart."
--Radhika Pandit, Radhika's Reading Retreat
Praise for Mister Blue -
"This is a great and very beautiful novel."
"Jacques Poulin has perfected the art of making simplicity look artless...Told with Hemingway-like sparseness and minimal melodrama...Poulin earns his lump-in-the-throat ending."
"Poulin’s style is discreet. He knows he has us in his gentle grip but he will not intrude with privileged knowledge of his characters’ interiors . . . This narrative, produced with such a light touch, has a beguiling effect – a muffled anxiety at its core, a surprising life-or-death debacle in miniature . . . I’ve never used the term 'endearing' in a review to describe a novel. But there it is."
-- Ron Slate, On the Seawall
"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 . . . A very agreeable read."
--M.A. Orfother, Complete Review
Praise for Translation is a Love Affair -
"For Jacques Poulin, in this miniature masterpiece of tenderness and humour, translation is more than the passage from language to language, it is the essence of our human condition: giving and taking, teaching and learning, experiencing and sharing experience, a love affair with our fellow human beings."
"We fall under the spell of this heartwarming, human novel, penned by Jacques Poulin at the summit of his art."
"If familiarity and surprise have become the trademark of Poulin's novels, it is evident that Translation is a Love Affair does not deviate from this model; and Poulin's reader continues to read as he/she would pay a visit to relatives, as much to reoccupy a familiar world as to discover that which is new."
"Autumn Rounds is an exceptionally gentle novel, a quiet romance with ruminations on aging, books, friendship, and the pleasures of landscapes and nature ... What gives [it] mass and momentum are all the little pieces that it seamlessly fits together."
--Danny Yee, Danny Yee Book Reviews