CanLit Challenge Book #47: Woodsmen of the West by Martin Allerdale Grainger
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 4:53 pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book 47, Woodsmen of the West (1908) – Martin Allerdale Grainger
“When Woodsmen of the West first appeared in 1908, most readers could not relate to its rendering of the rough edges of logging-camp life. M. Allerdale Grainger refused to sentimentalize the West – he drew from life. While his dramatic and loosely structured tale is at heart a love story, it also tells of what happens when the novel’s British narrator encounters a small-time logging operator whose obsession with lumber is matched by his lust for power over other men.

Today the novel is recognized as marking a significant shift in fiction written in and about the Canadian West. The accuracy of its detail makes it one of the finest examples of local realism in Canadian writing. It is also a fascinating chronicle of conflicting personalities, and of the genius of British Columbia hand-loggers, the culture of camp life, and the intrigues and corruption of the lumber business at the turn of the century.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Woodsmen of the West

My thoughts:
So from Ontario, we travel west to the rough frontiers of British Columbia on the other side of the young country. It took me quite a long time to read this one, even though it’s not that long a book (plus it’s episodic, so one might think it would go quickly).

It reminded me quite a lot of Moby-Dick without all of the biblical overtones–the western loggers were rather a secular bunch–and without the extensive descriptions of the process (in this case, of logging rather than whaling). We don’t get the minutiae of the procedure we get from Melville, as the focus is rather on the character of the men who work on the frontiers of civilisation and the culture which they have constructed. I loved to read the descriptions of frontier life. I think the illustration of the Western ideal, the Western character, is still today the mythos in which Western Canadians see themselves: tough, uncomplaining, independent, active, educated by doing rather than reading books.

I liked Marty and his self-deprecation–he seemed to embody the amateur outsider, just there to observe the culture into which he’d been dropped. Carter, the obsessive, cruel taskmaster seemed a close cousin of Ahab.

It is quite modern in tone–a precursor to the unembellished prose of later decades–and very episodic. It has the feel of a memoir rather than a novel.

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