THE NIGHT MANAGER SHUTS DOWN CANADA

Despite all of my travels to give my new Across Canada By Story show (more than 40 performances so far, only one of them involving a death-defying  fall off the stage) I have been able to see a spectacularly good TV series. It is “The Night Manager”, based on the 1993 novel by John Le Carre.

Long before that book appeared I was telling anyone who would listen that John Le Carre was not “just” a spy novelist, but the best novelist in Britain. I’m happy to note that this heretical opinion is now gaining acceptance. Ample proof is provided by the recent book, John Le Carre: The Biography , by Adam Sisman, who is, of course, “an Honourary Fellow of  (aha!) the University of St. Andrews”. His account of the life of David Cornwell, the man behind the nom de plume, is full of admiring quotes from major sources. For example, Philip Roth called A Perfect Spy “The best English novel since the war. ”Ian McEwan in 2013 called Le Carre “perhaps the most significant novelist of the second half of the 20th century in Britain.” I agree.

Certainly, in my mind, Le Carre/Cornwell was behind the best TV series of all time, the 1979 BBC adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Watching the superb plot unfold on the screen drove me back to the book, and I had a strange extra-dimensional experience as the same events were subtly revealed in two art forms.

With that background, I was excited to learn about the new TV series, “The Night Manager”. I have not been disappointed, and await the final episode with keen interest. One curiosity is that the villain of the piece – “the worst man in the world” – is a shameless arms dealer named Charles Onslow Roper, played by Hugh Laurie. Yes, Hugh “Bertie Wooster” Laurie, the pop-eyed idiot kept afloat by Jeeves, and later the star of the American TV series, “House”. For a Scot, there’s a special pleasure in seeing Hugh Laurie (and we all remember the old Scottish song “Annie Laurie”) become the world’s idea of a drawling English villain, when his features are almost a caricature of The Scottish Face.

For Canadians, there’s a special curiosity in the TV version of “The Night Manager”. In the book (and, again, I was drawn back to the book) when our hero,  Jonathan  Pine , has left Cairo, then Switzerland, then Cornwall, and is creating a new identity,  he ends up for some months in Quebec. In the mining town of Esperance he ends up working at le Chateau Babette, hired by mighty Madame Latulipe, who unfortunately gives him a room near her daughter Yvonne, whose fiancé, Thomas, is off studying First Nations in the North.

Madame is convinced that Pine/alias Beauregard is French.“Or perhaps Belgian. She was not an expert, she took her holidays in Florida. All she knew was, when he spoke French she could understand him, but when she spoke back at him, he looked as insecure as all Frenchmen looked when they heard what Madame Latulipe was convinced was the true, the uncorrupted version of their tongue.”

There are about 30 pages set in Canada, while Pine seduces his way to a new passport. But they don’t appear in the TV series. Making a film or a TV series out of a novel always involves great deal of reduction, and, in truth, the Canadian episode is not central to the book. Le Carre (who is involved in this screenplay) has written ruefully about how much cutting is required to prepare a novel for the screen, saying that you have to watch your oxen being turned into a bouillion cube. I’m sure that in the original quote, it was an Oxo cube.

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ABOUT THE YOUNG POET, CLAIRE CALDWELL

In Scotland, my mother had a first cousin called Douglas Caldwell. (I may even have been named after him, since we had no previous Dougs in the family). After service in the Navy in the Second World War he disappeared, sailing for parts unknown.  More than thirty years later he got in touch, to reveal that he now lived in Canada, in Toronto,  the city that was now my home.

Even better, he revealed that he had three children , including a son named Doug, who was a Producer at CBC Radio, where I did free-lance things. It turned out that I and Doug and his wife Judy McAlpine, also a CBC Producer, had lots of friends in common. Exciting contact was made among these unknown cousins, and their children, and our lives were enriched as our families expanded.

That’s why in November Jane and I were delighted to have our house provide the setting for a launch party for a new book of poetry by Doug and Judy’s amazing daughter Claire. INVASIVE SPECIES is her first book, but followers of the poetry scene in Canada already know her as the 2013 winner of the Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize. She is a credit to McGill, where she got her B.A., and to Guelph, where she earned her MFA.

As for the poetry (which inspired the National Post to single her out as an important new voice) let me just quote from the first verse of  “Bear Safety” (which Claire read aloud on our staircase):

Bears could be anywhere

 

On the subway at rush hour.

Between couch cushions.

In the drawer with dull pencils

and batteries and nothing

you need. In the eavestrough.

On a soccer field

during a lightning storm.

In the pocket of your dirty jeans,

your unlaced sneakers.

Run a hand under the sheets

before bedtime. Bears prefer to sleep

on Egyptian cotton.

They can usually tell if it’s cheap……..

 

INVASIVE SPECIES is published by Buckrider Books, an imprint of Wolsak and Wynn Publishers.

WORKING HARD AT LAKEFIELD

  Three years ago I was the Lakefield Festival’s host/interviewer at an evening celebrating Michael Crummey’s Galore and Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man. With those two fine writers and performers crooning their readings at the entranced audience, how could it go any way other than very well indeed?

  But the Lakefield Festival organisers (this means you, Stephanie) remembered me with affection, and this year presented me with an offer I could not refuse. I would give my solo Stories About Storytellers Show at 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, then act as host/interviewer for the evening session at 8.00, with three authors — count them, three. Then, presumably, I would collapse off-stage, but the show would be over by then.

   Ruthless people, those Lakefield folks.

   On the Friday evening we had dinner with Orme Mitchell (W.O.’s son) , his wife Barb, and  Norman Jewison and his wife, our dinner enlivened by Norman’s tales of his Caledon neighbour , Robertson Davies, and his Hollywood friend Sean Connery, whom I can imitate shupremely well.

  Saturday was spent roaming around Lakefield, before we went to the superb theatre at Lakefield School. After many careful sound checks the lapel mike was working really well… until, after a kind introduction by Lewis MacLeod (son of you know who), I went on stage, to find that squeaking feedback was now, mysteriously, a constant enemy.

   In the end Jane (urged by the sound man) strode on to the stage, demanding the slide-changing “clicker”, which she handled off-stage, and we soldiered on, to good effect. There was even a standing ovation, which is a surprisingly humbling experience (“You really liked it that much?”). Then Lewis conducted a kindly Question and Answer session, and I went off to sign books.

  So many books were sold, and signed, that the local bookseller ran out, and we were able to replenish her supplies with extra copies from the car. Ah, the glamorous life of a touring author.

  The evening session featured three very fine novelists, reading from their recent books, then chatting about them with me. The final part of the evening allowed the audience to throw questions at any of the authors.

  The books in question were very different: Annabel  by Katherine Winter tells the story of a hermaphrodite baby raised as a boy in Labrador in the 1970s:  The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis tells the modern story of a day in a middle-aged Toronto woman’s life when her alcoholism catches up with her: The Purchase by Linda Spalding is set on the violent Virgina frontier around 1800 when an abolitionist Quaker finds himself the owner of a slave.

  All very different, all very good. I recommend each one of them whole-heartedly, and am proud that our discussion centred exclusively on the books, as opposed to the prizes won, or the brothers or husbands (including Ron Davis, an excellent photographer) who might have earned a mention. Our main problem was that we ran out of time before all the audience’s questions could be answered. But the books are there to be read.

And I did not collapse, on-stage or off, and even attended a post-show party, before sleeping very soundly that night.

Praise from the Sunshine Coast

The Coast Reporter . . . Voice of the Sunshine Coast” recently ran a very nice report on this year’s superb Festival of the Written Arts at Sechelt under the heading “Making history — 30 Years of Festival.” The final paragraph reads,

“But it was the respect for history that dominated this 30th festival. It could be felt in the work of (Jane) Urquhart whose books turn on scenes from Canada’s past, and in the humorous anecdotes about Canadian literary giants, as told by editor Douglas Gibson. The polished ramblings of this career editor and publisher, more than any other speaker, reminded the audience of how this country’s literary tradition is still youthful, and how it has blossomed into adolescence over the last 30 years, completely in step with a festival that has proudly fostered its growth.”

Read the full article here.

A Rave for the Show from the West Edmonton Local

The West Edmonton Local featured a review of Stories About Storytellers the Show after Doug’s performance at Grant MacEwan University’s Centre for the Arts and Communications in Edmonton. Reporter Craig Fraser writes,

“Gibson spoke of his adventures fluently with a captivated audience at his fingertips. . . . Gibson was vivid in his recollection of events, and his ability as a storyteller was masterful as he recollected profound and heart-wrenching stories. . . . Ultimately, Gibson’s impressions, memories and even humorous recollections came full circle as he explored emotional reaches of himself and the audience with grace and humility.”

Read the full review here.

Bob Currie on Stories About Storytellers

Robert Currie is a well-known Saskatchewan retired professor and writer, who won a Governor General’s award for his biography of Somerset Maugham. He has kindly offered permission to quote from his email.

I expected the book to be entertaining — and I certainly was entertained. However, I was also impressed with how thorough it was in its quick studies of various authors, and how effectively you worked into most chapters digressions about other authors or various intriguing characters from the book trade. Your stories were forthright and honest, and some were also deeply moving.  Quite frankly, I can’t imagine any lover of books not being enthralled by STORIES ABOUT STORYTELLERS with all its fascinating inside information about the publishing world. Congratulations on a fine book.

Praise from Political Insider James A. Coutts

The well-known political insider Jim Coutts has read Stories About Storytellers with admiration. He has given us permission to quote from his letter to Doug Gibson:

Dear Doug,
I’ve not been surprised by the wonderful reviews your book has received over the last month.
I’ve read the book with a critical eye, as I know several of the people whom you edited – Paul Martin, Pierre Trudeau, W.O.Mitchell, Brian Mulroney and Peter Newman. You simply get it right every time, catching the flavour of each individual, exposing their weaknesses with loving care and celebrating their strengths. I’m glad you’ve written this book. It was an important thing to do. . . .”

Warm regards,
Jim Coutts