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Fiction Literary

The Tin Flute

Penguin Modern Classics Edition

by (author) Gabrielle Roy

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Aug 2018
Literary, Classics, Family Life
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2018
    List Price

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An affecting story of familial tenderness, sacrifice, and survival, The Tin Flute is imbued with Roy's unique brand of compassion and compelling understanding.

The first among her repertoire of award-winning novels, The Tin Flute is Gabrielle Roy's sympathetic novel about a family's struggle to survive the Montreal slums of Saint-Henri, overcome poverty, and find love—all amidst the mounting tensions of the Second World War.

About the author

Gabrielle Roy was an award-winning French Canadian author.

Gabrielle Roy's profile page


  • Nominated, Governor General's Literary Awards - Fiction

Excerpt: The Tin Flute: Penguin Modern Classics Edition (by (author) Gabrielle Roy)

Toward noon, Florentine had taken to watching out for the young man who, yesterday, while seeming to joke around, had let her know he found her pretty. The fever of the bazaar rose in her blood, a kind of jangled nervousness mingled with the vague feeling that one day in this teeming store things would come to a halt and her life would find its goal. It never occurred to her to think she could meet her destiny anywhere but here, in the overpowering smell of caramel, before the great mirrors hung on the wall with their narrow strips of gummed paper announcing the day’s menu, to the summary clacking of the cash register, the very voice of her impatience. Everything in the place summed up for her the hasty, hectic poverty of her whole life here in St. Henri.

Over the shoulders of her half-dozen customers, her glance fled toward the counters of the store. The restaurant was at the back of the Five and Ten. In the glitter of the glassware, the chromed panels, the pots and pans, her empty, morose and expressionless ghost of a smile caught aimlessly on one glowing object after another.

Her task of waiting on the counter left her few moments in which she could return to the exciting, disturbing recollections of yesterday, except for tiny shards of time, just enough to glimpse the unknown young man’s face in her mind’s eye. The customers’ orders and the rattling of dishes didn’t always break into her reverie, which, for a second, would cause a brief tremor in her features.

Suddenly she was disconcerted, vaguely humiliated.

While she had been keeping an eye on the crowd entering the store through the glass swing-doors, the young stranger had taken a place at the imitation-marble counter and was calling her over with an impatient gesture. She went toward him, her lips slightly open, in a pout rather than a smile. How maddening that he should catch her just at the moment when she was trying to remember how he looked and sounded!

“What’s your name?” he asked abruptly.

She was irritated, less by the question than by his way of asking: familiar, bantering, almost insolent.

“What a question!” she said contemptuously, though not really as if she wanted to end the conversation. On the contrary, her voice was inviting.

“Come on,” said the young man, smiling. “Mine’s Jean. Jean Lévesque. And I know for a start yours is Florentine. Florentine this, Florentine that, Florentine’s in bad humour today, got a smile for me, Florentine? Oh, I know your first name all right. I even like it.”

He changed tone imperceptibly, his eyes hardened.

“But if I call you miss, miss who? Won’t you tell little old me?” he insisted with mock seriousness.

He leaned toward her and looked up with eyes whose impudence was apparent in a flash. It was his tough, strong-willed chin and the unbearable mockery of his dark eyes that she noticed most today, and, this made her furious. How could she have spent so much time in the last few days thinking about this boy? She straightened up with a jerk that made her little amber necklace rattle.

“And I guess after that you’ll want to know where I live and what I’m doing tonight,” she said. “I know you guys.”

“You guys? What do you mean, you guys?” he mocked, looking over his shoulder as if there were someone behind him.

“Just . . . you guys!” she said, half exasperated.

His familiar, slightly vulgar tone, which put him on her level, displeased her less than his usual behaviour and speech. Her smile returned, irritated but provocative.

“Okay, now!” she said. “What do you want today?”

Once again his look had that brutal familiarity.

“I hadn’t got around to asking what you’re doing tonight,” he said. “I wasn’t in that big a hurry. Normally I’d take another three days at least. But now you mention it. . . .”

He leaned back a little on the stool and weaved gently from side to side. As he stared at her, his eyes narrowed.

“Now then! Florentine, what’re you doing tonight?”

He saw that she was upset. Her lower lip was trembling, and she held it with her teeth. Then she busied herself pulling a paper napkin from a chrome box, unfolded it and spread it on the counter.

Her face was thin, delicate, almost childish. The effort she was making to control herself caused the small, blue veins on her temples to swell and knot, and her almost diaphanous nostrils, closing, pulled tight the skin of her cheeks, as smooth and delicate as silk. Her lips were still uncertain, still threatening to tremble, but Jean, looking in her eyes, was suddenly struck by their expression. Under the arched line of her plucked eyebrows, extended by a little streak of makeup, her lowered lids could not hide the thin bronze ray of a glance, cautious, attentive and extraordinarily eager. Then she blinked, and the whole pupil showed with a sudden gleam. Over her shoulders fell a mass of light-brown hair.

With no particular purpose the young man was watching her intently. She astonished more than she attracted him. And even this phrase he had just uttered, “What are you doing tonight?” . . . had been unexpected. It had taken shape in his mind without his knowing; he had tossed it out as one drops a pebble to test an unknown depth. But her reaction encouraged him to try again. Would I be ashamed to go out with her? he wondered. And then the idea that such a thought could intervene after he had gone this far pushed him on to greater daring. Elbows on the counter, eyes staring into Florentine’s, he was waiting, as if in a cruel game, for a move from her to which he could react.

She stiffened under his brutal scrutiny, and he was able to see her better. He saw her upper body reflected in the wall mirror, and he was struck by her thinness. She had pulled the belt of her green uniform as tight as it would go around her waist, but you could see that her clothing barely clung to her slender body. And the young man had a sudden glimpse of what her life must be like, in the rush and bustle of St. Henri, that life of spruce young girls with rouged cheeks reading fifteen-cent serial novels and burning their fingers at the wretched little fires of what they took for love.

His voice grew incisive, almost cutting.

“You’re from here? From St. Henri?” he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders, and her only reply was a vexed, ironical smile, again more like a pout.

“Me too,” he went on, with mocking condescension.

“So we can be friends, eh?”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Gabrielle Roy:
“A consummate artist. . . . Roy communicates masterfully, with a beauty that is quite indescribable.”
Toronto Star

“Only a few modern writers . . . could match [Roy's] gift of portraying warmth without sentimentality, joy without delusion. Even when her work described alienation and loneliness, it also reached out in hope.”

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