Saturday, October 20, 2012

6th Canadian book challenge - 7th post

I've owned Gentleman Death by Graeme Gibson for years and years.  I probably picked it up at a Toronto shop selling seconded books around 1995.  I finally got to it while on a plane ride to Scotland.  I thought this was appropriate, given that the novel opens with a man flying from Toronto to the UK, ending up in the north part of Scotland.  Granted I was starting from Vancouver, but close enough.  The opening starts pretty well, but then goes in a completely different -- and very disappointing -- direction.  I'm not going to pull any punches (or worry overmuch about spoilers): I did not like this book.  It is a very disappointing piece of postmodern fiction.

It turns out that the first couple of chapters are simply a failed attempt at a novel by a writer.  We don't learn this until the third section.  The second section is a second failed attempt at a novel, which is considerably less interesting than the first.  In the third section we find that the novelist (presumably a proto-stand-in for Gibson) has been working on these for a while and plans on abandoning them.  From this point on, we alternative the second (fairly boring story) and the novelist and his interactions with family and friends.  None of this is remotely memorable, and I've already forgotten all of it within a week.  The only thing that is memorable (but cliched) is that in the last 50 or so pages, we learn that what the novelist really is struggling with is the death of his brother, and that is the unspoken shadow over everything.  Boring.

I very rarely like postmodern fiction, though Kroetsch's Alibi has enough interesting sections to sustain the reader's interest.*  This book (Gentleman Death) essentially failed me on every level.  I was so disappointed in it that I am strongly reconsidering my initial interest in reading Gibson's first three novels (which have been strongly praised in the past): Communion, Perpetual Motion and Five Legs.  I guess I may still dip into them but will be ready to bail at a moment's notice.

* To add to that, if we consider Tristram Shandy one of the first postmodern novels, it has the advantage of novelty and a much more interesting set of characters.  In contemporary (non-Canadian) fiction, I think Paul Auster's New York Trilogy holds up pretty well, but not most of his other work (postmodern or not).  Martin Amis and Carlos Fuentes occasionally incorporate post-modern elements into their novels relatively successfully.  If I can think of other reasonable examples, I will add them later.

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