Saturday, March 24, 2012

Canadian book challenge - 4th post

I believe this brings me to Kroetsch's The Studhorse Man.  To me this is Kroetsch's greatest achievement, yet it was only his third novel. Many of his other novels have fine elements and can be quite enjoyable, but they never quite reached this peak (for me at any rate).

Kroetsch reaches further back into literary history for Greek legends (the fact that the main character's horse is named Poseidon tips us off immediately).  There is a fairly interesting literary device in that the story of Hazard Lepage is being retold not by himself or a sympathetic observer, but by Demeter Proudfoot -- a rival for the affections of Hazard's fiance, Martha.  Demeter is pretty open about how he doesn't like Hazard and won't be a reliable narrator (and reveals himself as quite eccentric on all kinds of other matters, i.e. he is writing this account while in a bathtub), but despite this, finds himself caught up in Hazard's story from time to time and does make Hazard's quest appear fairly heroic.

Hazard is trying to breed a strain of blue horses and he wanders all over Alberta looking for farmers still looking to breed their mares at all (very difficult with the rise of the automobile and increasing mechanization).  Hazard occasionally takes the liberty of trying to breed horses without the owner's consent, and this usually lands him in additional trouble.  He meets a number of eccentric characters and gets involved in an epic card game (somewhat of a theme in his [Kroetsch's] work).  He often ends up on the lam, which is not made any easier by not being willing to part with a bluish stallion.  His wanderings are a pretty direct transfer of the Odysseus legend, including ending up (a bit against his will) in the bed of other women but never in his long-suffering finance's bed.  (If I recall, it was actually Poseidon who wouldn't forgive Odysseus and perpetually delayed his return home.)  Obviously, there is a bit of Joyce's Ulysses thrown in the mix as well.  Definitely more overtly funny than Ulysses and one doesn't have to be a classical scholar to get most of the humor ...

It's hard to convey how well the novel works, so I would just urge interested readers to pick up a copy.  It is towards the very top of my list of favourite Canadian novels.

This is review 4/13.  Incidentally, I picked up a copy of Kroetsch's The Puppeteer at the library and that should be the 14th Canadian book I read during the challenge.

The Studhorse Man

No comments:

Post a Comment