Wednesday, February 6, 2013
My Favourite Canadian Novel (So Far..)
So I promised my favorite Canadian novel, but got distracted, as often happens. Here it is: Who Has Seen the Wind by WO Mitchell. My copy proudly declares it has been discarded by the Broken Hill Municipal Library, which means I must have bought it for about 20c at a library sale when The Boy was a baby. It was one of those books picked up on a whim that I have read over and over again. I had never heard of the author, never seen the book before or since until I looked it up on Wikipedia just then. Turns out the school children of Canada are regularly forced to read it.
This is not a plot driven novel, but a very interior study of a young boy, growing up in a small town on the Canadian prairie during the Depression. I am very sure it is at least semi-autobiographical, but again, the characters - family, schoolteachers, preacher, friends, social outcasts - are all peripheral to the consciousness that the central character, Brian, brings to bear on tiny, seminal moments in his life. A drop of dew on a blade of grass, a stopped clock, the wind over the prairie, these are the moments which go to make up the boy and the man he will become. I like this, because I remember similar moments in my own childhood, moments of sudden clarity, a freeze frame of some scene or object that will forever retain some unbearable significance, because that was the moment that I suddnely knew... what? That I cannot remember.
Brian's search for meaning begins when he is four, and has earnest converstions with God, who appears to him in the guise of a leprechaun in white gumboots, and introduces himself as 'Mr RW God. You may call me RW,' and continues through to the age of eleven, as he ponders the mystery of death, grief, friendship, justice, truth.
The counterplots to Brian's unfolding consciousness are familiar to every small town. The love triangle, the malicious upholder of the status quo, the various plights of the outcasts. This novel hums with a sense of the place and times it depicts, which is one of the reasons I love it. Any book which is minutely observed and exquisitely written, and takes me to a place and time I have never been to and doesn't let me go until I have really been there, that is a book I will keep forever.
Other novels that fulfill the above requirements:
Harp in the South by Ruth Park (post-war inner Sydney slums)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (1960's, Mississipi, loved the book, still haven't seen the movie)
A Thousand Splendid Suns (Kabul, Afghanistan transforms from cosmopolitan medieval city to Taliban stronhold over twenty years, as seen by two women) by Kholed Hosseini
PS Do not give any of these books to schoolchildren, Canadian or otherwise, under the age of 16 or so. I would let my twelve year old read Who has Seen the Wind, but I doubt she would want to.
PPS More, give me more titles like this. I am a greedy reader..