Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Secret Between Us by Daniel Poliquin

Date Completed: October 2007
Pages: 304
Publication Year: 2007
Purchased in 2007 for my Giller-a-thon.

Reason for Reading: Another book in my goal to read all the Giller long-listed books by hopefully the end of the years.
An epic tale of a wartorn society in the midst of astonishing transformation by the author of The Straw Man.

When young Lusignan sets off from Ottawa to the First World War with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, he has already survived a tragicomic Catholic childhood and a writing career that has brought him both acclaim and disgrace. Shortly before the men depart for Europe, Lusignan has an encounter with a fellow officer, the aristocratic Essiambre d'Argenteuil, that proves to be the defining moment of his life.

Returning from Europe a hollow man, Lusignan keeps the memory alive by shadowing Amalia Driscoll, a woman whose strait-laced proprieties were challenged by this same d'Argenteuil. He encounters Concorde, the untutored young maid struggling to get by in the Flats district of Ottawa, and the Capuchin monk Father Mathrun, who longs for martyrdom in a foreign land. Providing the backdrop to Poliquin's incisive character study is a vivid evocation of a pivotal era in Canadian history.
I would have been happy if this book won the Giller, but I think they only put book small press books on the short list to make it fair. They rarely seem to win, it is usually the bigger press books that win. Which is the case this year, with a Random House book winning for the 8th time.

In any case, I quite enjoyed this book by Daniel Poliquin. I am glad that I bought it because I have never read him before, so it was a good introduction to a new author. A lot happens to the main character in this novel, especially considering this is not a long book. Before he goes to fight in World War I he has already had an interesting childhood. His parents married a bit later than was customary during this time. His father was very quiet and stuttered, while his mother was a bit mentally unbalanced and very religious. He grew up praying over everything and never really having a normal childhood until his mother was sent to an insane asylum for her unusual ways. Then, it is just him and his father. His father will reappear during different courses through the novel, even when he does not think that he really needs his father.

The novel flashes back from later in life to the events of his past. One of the common themes to the novel is the First World War, a changing place for many a man during this period of history. He goes back to other events from his younger life. People from his life who keep reappearing in his later life for various reasons. I feel this review is not really doing the book justice. I really liked it. I thought the flashing back to other events in his life was interesting, that he was a bit of a sad man that was down on his luck, but he made for a compelling character to follow through periods of his life. And, I have a thing for the World Wars. I am not really sure why, it might be a bit morbid, but I like the time period.

I recommend this book. I notice a lot of people participating in the Canadian Reading Challenge that is circulating are reading very popular authors of the English language. Poliquin would be a good way to read from the French perspective, even if it is translated.


  1. I agree, that's not fair! Everyone should have an equal chance.

    This doesn't sound like something I would like though.

  2. It sounds like one I'd like. I guess I need to start a list of Canadian authors so if the Canadian Challenge goes again next year I'll have a source to dip into.


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