Twenty-Fifteen: I’m doing something I’d been putting off for far too long. I’ve gotten serious about reading, again. I’ve dusted off my paperbacks and charged up my Kindle. It has been a year to take the time to feed my poor television-adled brain with a selection of healthy, nourishing fiction. So, read on, little brain. Read on. We’ve been going Book to the Future!
I’ll admit that after finishing the last chapters of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnson I spent some time googling the various characters, both real and otherwise, fictionalized in the novel. It was not only an attempt to draw out a few more tidbits of unmentioned facts from the internet about Joey Smallwood et al, but also a kind of reconciliation between the narrative license taken by the book and the reality upon which it was based. There was dabbling on both sides.
As a Canadian, it is a strange sort of thing to find our nations handful of compelling stories woven through our short and often politics-driven history. Karin has been watching via Netflix another bit of odd Canadiana, the “Murdoch Mysteries” an historical procedural cop drama set in late nineteenth century Toronto, and it’s not much of a contrast to compare my just-finished read to this television drama, if not in quality or substance then at least in spirit. Both enliven the prim and proper historical tales of Canada with a dose of something that wasn’t quite real.
I am not an avid reader of historical fiction, however, so I’m not experienced enough with the genre to glean if romancing the life story of a famous politician –while simultaneously driving an interesting if complex and fictional story of unrequited love through the center of it all– if that is standard practice for such things.
Throughout my reading of this book I often felt a blend of curiosity and perplexity at coming to terms with the dichotomy. Was the character himself not interesting enough? Is this a story of the people or are the people merely interesting set dressing for a much more complex story? Or, is historical fiction a kind of branch of fan fiction where admirers of the story (as defined by the originator) find a need to insert their own interpretation of the people, places and events into their own adjusted version of events? Any option is not a negative nor meant to shine ill-repute upon the story. It merely what it made me consider given the context and the subtext of the story.
On the other hand, I liked the story and would rate it a four out of five.
It was rich and nuanced. It danced across the curious inner narrative of a famous politician of whom I had (obviously) known some, but not known much. If he was half the character portrayed in the story, he would have be an amazing character to have seen in real life.
The other character of note is (of my own personal interpretation) one and the same: the unrequited love of his fictional life, Smallwood’s tumultuous relationship with his country-soon-province, Newfoundland, seems manifest in the fictional character of Fielding: She is a woman who seems to indifferently taunt him his whole life from afar, in person, or through print, she embodies the exaggerated stereotypes of the island, and she is the one through whom the layers of his heart, motivation, and soul are unwrapped and exposed as he becomes the leader destined by the facts of history. As a character she is a curious foil, but as a metaphor for Newfoundland she is simultaneously perplexing and beautiful, angry and embracing, untamably independent yet profoundly shaped by the world from which she was born into.
Ultimately, I found the The Colony of Unrequited Dreams to be an immensely readable story… as it quietly filled a deep crevasse in my patriotic heart of hearts. You should read it.