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Entries in Fiction (3)


Canadian Patriotism

From Barometer Rising, by Hugh MacLennan

The railway line, that tenuous thread which bound Canada to both the great oceans and made her a nation, lay with one end in the darkness of Nova Scotia and the other in the flush of a British Colombia noon.

Under the excitement of this idea his throat became constricted and he had a furious desire for expression: this anomalous land, this sprawling waste of timber and rock and water where the only living sounds were the footfalls of animals or the fantastic laughter of a loon, this empty tract of primordial silences and winds and erosions and shifting colours, this bead-like string of crude towns and cities tied by nothing but railway tracks, this nation undiscovered by the rest of the world and unknown to itself, these people neither American nor English, nor even sure what they wanted to be, this unborn mightiness, this question mark, this future for himself, and for God knew how many millions of mankind!

Barometer Rising is set in 1917, a time when Canada's national identity was in its infancy. Canada's participation in World War I would be a watershed its history.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

This week, I finished a book that was breath of fresh air. After reading The Handmaid's Tale, which was good, but grim, this was good fun. Did you know that sometimes, it's okay to take a break from heavy reading and read something fun? I forgot this. When my kids were at home and being homeschooled, I read out loud to them every day, even when they were older. We often read fun books. I forgot how necessary that is.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a series by Canadian author Alan Bradley.  Oh, how I do love it when the Canucks write good books! The books are centred around the adolescent Flavia deLuce, who lives in the English countryside with her two sisters and father in the 1950's.  At this time, Elizabeth II is a young mother of an infant son, Charles.

Flavia is a precocious lover of chemistry who likes to taint her sister's lipstick with poison ivy. In this first volume, which involves rare stamps, boys' schools, and traipsing through library archives, Flavia helps uncover why a man has died at their home of Buckshaw. Of course, thinking through chemical processes contributes to the solving of this crime.

As I said, this book was good fun. Flavia is funny, charming, albeit the kind of impish child I wouldn't want to have to discipline. In recent days, I've read a few fiction volumes which involve depicting relationships among young people and their siblings. I think it takes a skill for a man to write so adeptly about how young sisters might interact with each other.

When I got this volume from the library, I took out the second, which I'll begin this weekend.  I love reading my volumes on theology and all that stuff, but I love to read a story that's fun. It's good for the soul.


Maybe it's because she's Canadian

I've been reading the book The Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.  I've not always been a huge fan of Atwood, but I decided to read this one because I saw something quoted from it which I liked.

This book is written in the present tense despite being narrated in the first person by a woman remembering her childhood.  As the narrator describes the new school she's attending with her brother, she comments on the unwritten rules she must follow.  These words felt familiar to me:

Boys get teased for having younger sisters, or sisters of any kind, or mothers; it's like having new clothes.  When he gets anything new my brother dirties it as soon as possible, to avoid having it noticed; and if he has to go anywhere with me and my mother, he walks ahead of us or crosses to the other side of the street.  If he's teased about me, he will have to fight some more.  For me to contact him, or even call him by name, would be disloyal.  I understand these things, and do my best.

So I am left to the girls, real girls at least, in the flesh.  But I'm not used to girls, or familiar with their customs. I feel awkward around them, I don't know what to say.  I know the unspoken rules of boys, but with the girls I sense that I am always on the verge of some unforseen, calamitous blunder.

Oh man, as the girl who had three older brothers, I understand this.