Friday, September 21, 2007

Giller-a-thon: Book Number 2: October by Richard B. Wright

Completion Date: September 20, 2007
Pages: 240
Publication Year: 2007 (Harper Collins)
Received in 2007 from Harper Collins

Reason for Reading: Another book in my attempt to read as many of the Giller-nominated books by the time the short list is announced on October 9th. I don't think I will get as many read as I had hoped, but I am aiming for ten out of the fifteen.
A new novel that Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan fans will adore, October effortlessly weaves a haunting coming-of-age story set in World War II Quebec with a contemporary portrait of a man still searching for answers in the autumn of his life.

In England to see his daughter, Susan, who is gravely ill, James Hillyer, a retired professor of Victorian literature, encounters by chance a man he once knew as a boy. Gabriel Fontaine, a rich and attractive American he met one summer during the war, when he was sent on a holiday to the Gaspé, is a mercurial figure, badly crippled by polio. As an adolescent, James was both attracted to and repelled by Gabriel's cocksure attitude and charm. He also fell hopelessly in love with Odette, a French- Canadian girl from the village, only to find himself in competition with the careless Gabriel. Now, at this random meeting over six decades later - as he struggles with the terrible possibility that he could outlive his own daughter - James is asked by Gabriel to accompany him on a final, unthinkable journey. At last, James begins to see that all beginnings and endings are inexorably linked.

A classic Richard B. Wright novel, defined by superb storytelling, subtle, spare writing and characters who travel psychological territory as familiar - and uncharted - as our own, October is an extraordinary meditation on mortality, childhood and memory.
I find it a bit interesting that the marketing for this book is saying that this is a book that Clara Callan fans will adore, or something along those lines. I am not saying that I do not like this book, I just liked Clara Callan way better. I think that is my problem with Wright, since he won the Giller and Governor General's Award for Clara Callan, none of his other books have been anywhere near as good. This book is better than others, but I am still waiting for him to rise above Clara Callan. That being said, I did like this book, just that if you are going to compare it to his previous Giller-nominated book that he went on to win for, I have to say it is found lacking.

This is a novel about an older man living out he last few years of his life. The book all takes place predominately in October, but there are flashback scenes to a summer when he is 14-years-old. In this October he receives a phone call from his middle-aged daughter with very bad news, setting in motion all the events that happen during the course of this book. His wife died in her 50's from cancer, and now it looks like his daughter is battling the same thing. When he goes to England to visit her, where she is a headmistress at a boarding school, he encounters memories from his past. All this happens because after he leaves his daughter, he decides to stop off in another England town that is very fond of and he runs into a man that he has not seen in 60 years.

Seeing this man for the first time in all those years leads him to think back to the summer where they met for the very first time. They have not seen each other since, but his friend is still very obviously him. He had polio as a child and is cooped up in a wheelchair, this has made a very cranky, proud, and self-centred individual. During the course of the book we learn what he was like then, but also get a taste of what he is like now. They meet under strange circumstances, and go on to travel to Switzerland together for even stranger ones. This book deals with a few moral issues, and not everyone that reads it will agree with what occurs.

Overall, not a bad book, but I liked Michael Ondaatje's book better. It is probably comparable with Helpless, though, a good book, but not as good as some of the books that have come before from the same author. Of course, the Giller's are not based on passed books, but I cannot help thinking of them like that. Even if I did not compare them to other attempts, I think that Ondaatje's the best so far. Next up is The Book of Negroes because I am waiting for the others to arrive in the mail. I was hoping for some today to read over the weekend, but looks like I am waiting for Monday.


  1. I've never read Ondaatje's books for the stupidest reason ever: I hate his wife's books. Isn't that ridiculous? I should give him a try.

    I'm sort of excited to hear that Helpless isn't as good as its predecessors, because I loved it, but haven't read anything else by Gowdy. So now I'm REALLY looking forward to her earlier works!

  2. The Romantic is my favourite Barbara Gowdy book. I have also read Mister Sandman and The White Bone.

    And, now I feel stupid, who is Michael Ondaatje's wife... Off to look that up.

  3. So maybe I should start with this one and then move on to Clara Callan. I've heard such good things about the latter, but haven't got a copy yet. Once a book's in the house, it tends to nag at me. ;)


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