Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Readings 2K9: First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women
by Eric McCormack

It’s a pity that this book isn’t as interesting as its title. It’s not terrible; it’s the story of a boy born in Scotland, orphaned at a young age, who ends up travelling a fair part of the world and seeing some strange things before his story is wrapped up in Canada in his middle age. It’s an odd structure. The first two thirds or so are extravagant, set in exotic locales, featuring almost Gilliamesque oddities; the last portion is stripped of wonder and charm, livened only by an odd dream and a perhaps-supernatural vision of blackness. It’s clever, but makes the whole feel false. The two parts don’t coexist comfortably within one tale.

The problem may simply be the blandness of the narrative voice. McCormack chose to make his main character tell his tale in a very prosaic voice; there’s a reason for that, as we discover when we find out who he’s telling the story to, and why. But it doesn’t do the actual story any favours. There’s an absence of atmosphere that the story perhaps needed; lacking that atmosphere, the extravagances of the early parts never come to life, never catch fire, and end up even less substantial than they were presumably meant to. It’s a book that balances wonder against the quotidian, and tips the scales in favour of the quotidian.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a Canadian novel. It’s a decent example of the sort of tropes one thinks of when one thinks of CanLit — an erudite wander through a colonial culture’s history and literature; a tendency to flee the fantastic in favour of a bleaker realism (superficially bleaker, at least; one suspects that CanLit is more comfortable with the narrower bounds of realism). It’s a short and not terrible book; but, like much CanLit, not in the end terribly interesting.

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