CanLit Challenge Book #19: Wacousta by John Richardson
Filed under: CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 9:49 pm on Monday, February 19, 2007

Book 19, Wacousta (1839) – John Richardson
From the back cover:
“Set in the 1760s at the time of Pontiac’s Indian alliance against the British, Wacousta combines elements of revenge tragedy and gothic romance in reconstructing a violent episode in Canadian frontier history. In Major John Richardson’s vivid depiction, Pontiac’s campaign against Fort Detroit is masterminded by the mysterious Wacousta, a Byronic anti-hero whose thirst for vengeance against the fortress commander borders on madness. Turning upon binary oppositions – garrison against wilderness, restraint against passion, mercy against justice – this suspenseful novel creates a world of deception and terror in which motive is ambiguous and the boundary between order and anarchy unclear.

First published in 1832, Wacousta anticipated many of the themes that would assume central importance in the Canadian narrative imagination.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Chief Pontiac
the Wikipedia article on Pontiac’s Rebellion

My thoughts:
This was a really great Gothic adventure story. There was plenty of graphic violence, melodramatic romanticism, and quite a bit of sadomasochism just under the surface. On top of that it was a fun adventure story set in a time when Detroit and Michillimackinac were the far outposts in a string of French turned British fortifications along what later became the border between the U.S. and Canada of which Quebec City was the most established and powerful. Neither the Europeans or the Odawa come off as being either wholly good & civilised or wholly evil & savage. Both groups contain elements of moral duality and so John Richardson, writing even at this very early time in our history, provides us modern readers with a very sophisticated story (but one has to look for it beneath all the ‘reeking scalps’ and swooning women). There were times when I had to laugh because the writing was so melodramatic, and I felt a kind of glee when reading the almost homo-erotic description of Charles & his relationship with Valletort. Richardson is also a master at suspense. Once you get past the interesting introduction to the geography and history of the setting he draws you in and as soon as your suspense is turned up he changes gears and starts off on a digression or switches to another plotline in almost comic book fashion.

CanLit Challenge Book #18: The Fire-Dwellers by Margaret Laurence
Filed under: CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 2:13 pm on Saturday, February 10, 2007

Book 18, The Fire-Dwellers (1969) – Margaret Laurence
From the back cover:
“Stacey MacAindra burns – to burst through the shadows of her existence to a richer life, to recover some of the passion she can only dimly remember from her past.

The Fire-Dwellers is an extraordinary novel about a woman who has four children, a hard-working but uncommunicative husband, a spinster sister, and an abiding conviction that life has more to offer her than the tedious routine of her days.

Margaret Laurence has given us another unforgettable heroine – human, compelling, full of poetry, irony and humour. In the telling of her life, Stacey rediscovers for us all the richness of the commonplace, the pain and beauty in being alive, and the secret music that dances in everyone’s soul.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Margaret Laurence
the Wikipedia article on Neepawa, Ontario (model for Manawaka)

My thoughts:
I remember feeling rather annoyed with Stacey at the beginning—reading about someone else’s depression and desperation is not exactly fun. But by the time I got to the Superware party I had changed my attitude. I got to really like the rebellious spirit that Stacey was still holding on to. I ended up reading from the Richalife party straight through to the end.

This book is as topical today as in 1969, despite the advances of feminism. This would make a good book for a book club to read.