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Saturday, 29 March 2014


This is a long book, in which two dramatic things happen, and then almost nothing else does.

This is a trite and simplistic summary of Canada, but in fact it is not that wide of the mark.

The truth is, there is absolutely no suspense whatsoever in this book. None. The first line of the novel is "First I will tell you about the robbery our parents committed." The second line is, "And then about the murders, which happened later."

On the first page we learn about the two events around which everything else in the book revolves. Approximately the first half of Canada relates, from the point of view of fifteen year old Dell Parsons, how Dell's parents fell into robbing a bank.

The second half, after Dell is taken to Canada and put into the care of the mysterious Arthur Remlinger, tells about how events led inexorably to two men getting killed.

There are details around Dell's family, the two small towns where he lives - one in Montana, the other in Canada -, we learn about his hobbies - bees and chess - and about some of the characters that surround him in either place. But really, apart from the two crimes that serve as muted climaxes in either half of the book, it is a very mundane story that is told in its five hundred pages.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Novels can survive and impress with very little, there is no need to have a story packed with detail and events and action for a piece of fiction to work. And for parts of it this is true for Canada, the pace is gentle and reflective, things are carefully and minutely described, there is no fuss or fireworks. It is a slow examination of a year in a boy's life.

It is about a number of things, but mainly it is about a search for belonging. Dell is constantly uprooted from military base to military base, as his father is in the air force and, just as he thinks he may be settling in to his small town in Montana, he is displaced again by his parents' arrest.

Dell is just looking for somewhere to call home, and he finally finds it in the place that serves as the title of the novel, in Canada.

And yet the novel is too insubstantial for its length. There is too much insignificant detail here, too much slow examination, too much revealed and not enough held back. There is simply too little mystery for such a large book.

We know everything already, well before it happens. We don't know exactly how it happens, but we can guess. There is nothing really at stake. The writing carries the reader along, and with a lesser writer than Richard Ford the book would have been tedious, but this strong writing cannot make up for the absence of tension in the narrative.

Canada has things to recommend it, the balanced, steady, lyrical writing, the carefully described detail, but in essence it is a novella trapped in the body of a large, overgrown novel. 

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