Dickens is well known for his shining his light on the working class of London. But Gabrielle Roy did the same for the working class of Montreal. The drawback with Dickens is that he never bothered or even thought about women; perhaps because she was a woman Roy does. The focus of the story is on the family LaCosse, in particular the eldest daughter Florentine and mother Rose-Anna and how the women have to negotiate lack of money and society as Canada enters the Second World War.
While there is focus on men – in particular Rose-Anna’s husband and the character of Jean, who becomes a man of interest for Florentine, the heart of the novel is on the struggles of the women. There are the long descriptions of Rose-Anna’s struggle to find hearth and home. Her anger about the family’s inability to afford things for her children – new clothes, school, a tin flute.
And that is the pathos of the novel, the struggle to achieve to become more. Whether or Florentine achieves it is left to the reader, but the book is about the restriction of options that poverty brings as well as how those who say the will buck the system are actually those who perhaps make it worse, who lack caring.
It is not a hopeless book but it in some ways it is a braver book than any of Dickens work.