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Letters in Canada 1977 Once again, the editors of the University of Toronto Quarterly wish to say farewell and thank you to several contributors to 'Letters in Canada: and give a warm welcome to new collaborators to our journal. Gabrielle Poulin, who has been responsible for several years for 'Romans, nkits, contes et nouvelles: has decided to give up this task in order to spend more time on her critical reviews in the printed and electronic media of Quebec. Rene Dionne has also chosen to leave his post as chronicler of our 'Poesie' section. To both we express our heartfelt appreciation for a task well done. Lise Gauvin of the Universite de Montreal, has taken over the reviewing of French-language fiction. She is a member of the editorial boards of the important journals Etudes fran,aises and Possibles and a much-respected critic. Richard Giguere of the Universite de Sherbrooke, is now responsible for the"Poesie' column. He is on the editorial board of the vital publication Ellipse, and a keen observer of French-language poetry. We also welcome Natalia Aponiuk of the University of Manitoba, who will review works in Ukrainian for the section 'Publications in Other Languages. ' (s.-z.s.) Fiction 1 / SAM SOLECKI Since an author's first book is rarely, if ever, his major achievement the reviewer must in most cases treat it as apprentice work; he must look for signs of promise, for indications of a potentially greater talent than that immediately displayed. For every Invisible Man or The Mountain and the Valley there are dozens of first novels of now purely historical or academic interest like Strange Fugitive, The Acrobats, But We Are Exiles, and This Side Jordan. Most probably, we read the first work with a kind of schizophrenic attention: on the one hand, we apply our usual standards to it - how does it measure up against the best of Dostoievski?; on the other, we never really forget that this is the work of a beginner and therefore we make the necessary adjustments - all right, is it as good as Poor Folk? I recognize this duality, for example, in Malcolm Ross's response to Oonah McFee's Sandbars: 'As a first novel it is incredibly good UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME XLVII , NUMBER 4 . SUMMER 1978 0042-0247178/0900-°323 $0.00/0 © UNrvERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS 1978 }24 LETTERS IN CANADA 1977 a remarkable piece of work, full of insight.' The omission of the opening clause would make this a much stronger judgment of approbation ; its inclusion indicates a qualification, undefined yet clearly understood . Where in 1976 there appeared, untypically I think, several first works that could be judged by the highest standards or whose complexity demanded a particularly sophisticated response from the reader (Ondaatje 's Coming Through Slaughter, for example), in 1977 there were only two that struck me as meriting serious attention, Sandbars and Leon Rooke's The Love Parlour; and, strictly speaking, only Sandbars is a first appearance, since The Love Parlour is Rooke's fourth book but his first Canadian . one. I felt that none of the other first works was either worth reading or displayed any particular promise. The turgid and pretentious prose of John Bentley Mays's The Spiral Stair I found almost impenetrable ; John Saul's political thriller The Birds of Prey had an interesting plot but kept reminding me of how much more skilfully Graham Greene does this sort of thing; Pauline Gedge's much publicized prize-winning historical novel, The Child of Morning, is really closer to The Golden Dog than to serious historical fiction which illuminates both the past it represents and the present in which it is written; Chipman Hall's Lightly, a kind of eastern Who Has Seen the Wind, is ruined by an almost unbearably sentimental tone and by the improbabilities of its plot. In none of these novels nor in the handful of others I read did I find a particularly interesting vision of life expressed in a distinctive style. Oonah McFee's Sandbars (Macmillan, }57, $11.95) is clearly a much stronger novel than any of the above. Like Hugh Hood's The New Age or...


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