An affecting story of familial tenderness, sacrifice, and survival during World War II, The Tin Flute won both the Governor General's Awards and the Prix Femina of France. The novel was made into a critically acclaimed [motion picture] in 1983. Originally published in the French language as Bonheur d'occasion literally translated as 'secondhand happiness', which represent her sense of rebound love in the novel.
Roy's first novel, Bonheur d'occasion (1945), gave a starkly realistic portrait of the lives of people in Saint-Henri, a working-class neighbourhood of Montreal. The novel caused many Quebeckers to take a hard look at themselves and is regarded as the novel that helped lay the foundation for Quebec's Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. The original French version won her the prestigious Prix Femina in 1947. Published in English as The Tin Flute (1947), the book won the 1947 Governor General's Award for fiction as well as the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal. Distributed in the United States, where it sold more than three-quarters of a million copies, the Literary Guild of America made The Tin Flute a feature book of the month in 1947. The book garnered so much attention that Roy returned to Manitoba to escape the publicity.
There are two French versions of Bonheur d'occasion. The first was published in 1945 by Société des Éditions Pascal in two volumes. This version was translated in 1947 by Hannah Josephson, who removed several short passages from the English version. In 1965, Librairie Beauchemin published an abridged French version eliminating a number of passages. This second version was translated by Alan Brown in 1980. As a result, there has never been an unabridged version of The Tin Flute published in English.
The story takes place in Montreal, principally in the poor neighbourhood (at that time) of Saint-Henri, between February 1940 and May 1940, during the Second World War, when Quebec is still suffering from the Great Depression. Florentine Lacasse, a young waitress at the "Five and Ten" restaurant who dreams of a better life and is helping her parents get by, falls in love with Jean Lévesque, an ambitious machinist-electrician. Wanting to satisfy his withered ego, he agrees to date Florentine. Quickly tiring of the relationship, Jean introduces her to a friend, Emmanuel Létourneau, who is a soldier on leave. Emmanuel falls in love with Florentine. Despite this, Florentine's attraction towards Jean will have important consequences in her life. A parallel thread in the novel is the Lacasse family life, made difficult by their poverty.