CanLit Challenge Book #48: That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan
Filed under: 20th Century,Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 11:20 am on Friday, May 20, 2011

Book 48, That Summer in Paris (1963) – Morley Callaghan
“It was the fabulous summer of 1929 when the literary capital of North America moved to La Rive Gauche-the Left Bank of the Seine River-in Paris. Ernest Hemingway was reading proofs of A Farewell to Arms, and a few blocks away F. Scott Fitzgerald was struggling with Tender Is the Night. As his first published book rose to fame in New York, Morley Callaghan arrived in Paris to share the felicities of literary life, not just with his two friends, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but also with fellow writers James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and Robert McAlmon. Amidst these tangled relations, some friendships flourished while others failed. This tragic and unforgettable story comes to vivid life in Callaghan’s lucid, compassionate prose.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Morley Callaghan

My thoughts:
I enjoyed this immensely, my favourite of Callaghan’s so far. Callaghan is a great guide to the literary world of the twenties. He was obviously well-regarded by his slightly older contemporaries, including Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis and Ezra Pound and James Joyce. I love his enthusiasm as he meets up with his idols one by one. In between stories of these encounters, he talks about his day to day (or night to night) routine of walking around Paris and discussing literary and other things in the cafés over wine, punctuated by weekend boxing matches with Ernest.

From a coming-of-age, portrait of the artist as a young man in the first part of the book, we move to an older man’s reflection upon the sincere friendship of three men gone awry in the last act. The breakup of the friendship of the three men over something so small and inconsequential was sad and unnecessarily unfortunate. Or, perhaps, according to Morley’s analysis of their natures, unavoidable.

Great, inspirational passages about writing as an art, an interesting description of a renowned time and place with famous people entering and exiting the stage, and a meditation on the vicissitudes of friendship.

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.

CanLit Challenge Book #46: Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 3:41 pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book 46, Leaven of Malice (1954) – Leaven of Malice
“The following announcement appeared in the Salterton Evening Bellman: ‘Professor and Mrs Walter Vambrace are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Pearl Veronica, to Solomon Bridgetower Esq, son of…’. Although the malice that prompted this false engagement notice was aimed at three people only – Solly Bridgetower, Pearl Vambrace, and Gloster Ridley, the anxiety-ridden local newspaper editor – before the leaven of malice had ceased to work it had changed permanently, for good or ill, the lives of many citizens of Salterton. This is the second novel in The Salterton Trilogy (which also includes Tempest-Tost and A Mixture of Frailties)”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Leaven of Malice

My thoughts:
Brilliant. Funny. Poignant even at times. Robertson takes us back to Salterton some four years after Tempest-Tost, where someone has placed a false engagement notice about Pearl Vambrace and Solomon Bridgetower in the paper. Professor Vambrace is outraged, thinking that the mysterious ‘X’ did it as an insult to him. When he doesn’t get the apology he wants from Gloster Ridley, the Bellman’s editor, he decides to sue for libel. Everyone in town seems to be affected by the hubbub created and we get to eavesdrop upon conversation after conversation (accompanied by Davies’ delightful and witty commentary) as the overlapping ripples spread out and reflect back on each other. All of the characters are human and flawed, but Davies loves them anyway and we do too. With the dean’s speech on malice at the climax, Davies takes another step toward the mythical and philosophical atmosphere of his later trilogies.

CanLit Challenge Book #45: The Imperialist by Sara Jeannette Duncan
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 2:32 pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book 45, The Imperialist (1904) – Sara Jeannette Duncan
“Sara Jeannette Duncan’s classic portrait of a turn-of-the-century Ontario town, The Imperialist captures the spirit of an emergent nation through the example of two young dreamers. Impassioned by “the Imperialist idea,” Lorne Murchison rests his bid for office on his vision of a rejuvenated British Empire. His sister Advena betrays a kindred attraction to the high-flown ideals in her love for an unworldly, and unavailable, young minister. Nimbly alternating between politics and romance, Duncan constructs a superbly ironic object-lesson in the Canadian virtue of compromise.

Sympathetic, humorous, and wonderfully detailed, The Imperialist is an astute analysis of the paradoxes of Canadian nationhood, as relevant today as when the novel was first published in 1904.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Sara Jeannette Duncan

My thoughts:
Before I started, I thought that from the description this sounds like it’s the same kind of book that Edith Wharton or perhaps Henry James would write, but with a distinctly Canadian twist. But I found that she writes a little more like George Eliot or even Elizabeth Gaskell but with a Modern burnish, almost anticipating Virginia Woolf at times.

The middle of this book was rather tedious as the author went on and on explaining Lorne’s positive support of imperialism* and his party’s wavering position on the issue. I wish Duncan had spent more time on her characters, their relationships, and a little less on political philosophy. But the parts she spent on those things were very good.

From the setup, the natural ending would have been an electoral success for Lorne and romantic disappointment for Advena, but Duncan switches things up and at the last minute, Lorne’s political career crashes and burns (along with his proposed marriage, but good riddance), and Advena’s marriage suddenly becomes convenient as well as desirable.

There are threads in this book that we can see working their way through Canadian identity in the future…

*In this book “imperialism” does not refer to colonial oppression and extermination of indigenous cultures and peoples as it is used today. Rather, it refers to protected, preferential trade agreements between the mother country and daughter countries (in this case Britain and Canada).

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