Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading (#2)

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So to make it easier, this recurring feature revisits some of those books and reminds you why they’re worth a read. Last time, we revisited Dickens of the Mounted, and this we’re featuring . . .

Broken Ground by Jack Hodgins (1998)

Many readers think of Jack Hodgins as a fine, good-humoured writer  whose strength lies in writing cheerful stories set on Vancouver Island. Not this time. This novel is set on the Island, but in a “soldier’s settlement,” where veterans who survived the First World War have been given land by a grateful nation. Of course the land is marginal, dominated by giant tree stumps that have to be blasted out in a landscape that reminds the men of the trenches in France they escaped so recently.

The war is a constant dark, brooding presence to the men  and women whose voices tell this story, with many scenes set at the Front. Then the horror of an advancing forest fire brings the present dangerously alive.

When you read it, you’ll see why this book won the Drummer General’s Award, given to protest the fact that such an excellent book failed to win the Governor-General’s Award or the Giller Prize. It is a remarkable blend of the two worlds, the trenches and the pioneer settlement, and it is told with immense power. Don’t miss it.

For more on Broken Ground, see page 149 of Stories About Storytellers.

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Stories About Storytellers Companion Reading

Many early readers of Stories About Storytellers have remarked that they finish reading it only to rush to pick up one of the other books Doug has so lovingly described. So this recurring feature will be dedicated to highlighting Gibson-edited books you might have missed. First up . . .

Dickens of the Mounted: The Astounding Long-lost Letters of Inspector F. Dickens, NWMP, 1874-1886, Edited by Eric Nicol (1989)

It is true that Francis Dickens, son of Charles, was a long-serving Mountie in Western Canada. It is also true that he was a disaster in the role. The Canadian Encyclopedia  states: “Dickens can be blamed for worsening relations between the Blackfoot and the NWMP and for the growing antipathy of the officer cadre towards Englishmen.” What is not true is that Eric Nicol “edited” these letters home written by Frank.  Chuckling at his desk in Vancouver, Eric made them up, from the very first sentence “It was not the best of times, it was not the worst of times, it was Ottawa.” But he carried the joke off so brilliantly that the well-researched book appeared on both Fiction and Non-fiction best-seller lists in Canada, while I rubbed my hands with glee. It still makes for delightful reading.

For more on Dickens of the Mounted, see pages 76-78 of Stories About Storytellers.