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FICTION 21 language and story is particularly evident in the clean editing of Mercury Press, and the beautiful designs of Turnstone. These presses will carry, in the light of multiple-free-trade deals, the vanguard of Canadian literature: where it will go no less than where it has been. 2 / T .L. CRAIG The fifty 1991 books offered for review in this category by authors who have already published books, not to mention the number in the following category of 'first' authors, would seem to demonstrate a healthier industry for fiction than has been indicated in the press over the last two years. The eclectic nature of this mass of material makes it difficult to distinguish significant patterns, but one may note the increasing tendency of Canadian literature to move abroad; the national introversions which have occupied us politically are now indistinguishable in our fiction. Such a Long Journey (McClelland and Stewart, 339, $16.95) won Rohinton Mistry this year's Governor-General's award for fiction, an award that has stimulated some critics to speak of Canadian literature's 'coming of age' in 'the global village.' Last year's winner had only a minimum of Canadian content, set almost wholly in Italy; Mistry's winner has no Canadian content at all after the publisher's imprint. Set entirely in India and, except for nineteen pages, in Bombay, the novel belongs to a very different order than the other works discussed here. It is not a regional or Parsi book but one, like Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas, that investigates human strengths and weaknesses in, to use a battered term, a universal sense. The comparison with Naipaul's work is inevitably attractive, but superficial and misleading. The wry irony that provides humour and pathos for Naipaul is not Mistry's style. A flatter, more direct painting of the central character, Gustad Noble, who has an apartment but sees his home disintegrating, is provided by an author who goes beyond a Biswas to create a more complicated protagonist in a full home community. This social setting is created in considerable detail, with explanatory 'subtitles' for non-Indian readers that make this book as much an interesting and moving slice of life from a foreign locale as the Calcutta-set film Salaam Bombay. Mediating his plot between the dictates of realism and his characters' needs for some relief from realism, Mistry has his weary Noble search for values that can survive his cynicism, in an enervating life of small demands magnified by overcrowding, pollution, the lack of real health care, tribalism, and political corruption. The original Willie Loman plot becomes entangled in a nasty mess of stolen money used by a secret service against Indira Gandhi's opposition, while war with Pakistan over Bangladesh provides a background to the neighbourhood 22 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 riot against municipal politicians' incompetence. Thus the plot is taken to levels beyond A House for Mr Biswas, although meaning, if not values, largely escapes this one Noble among the cast of ignobles. There are some ragged holes in the book. For example, that a jailed turncoat secret agent would be permitted to make a full and melodramatic confession about 'Mother India's' misuse of funds to the humble Noble seems unlikely. Noble's elder son disappears at length from the plot and misses the development of character that takes place in his absence; his return at the conclusion is incompletely prepared and inadequately resolves the father-son subplot. To balance these defects, one must mention the unusual range of Mistry's vocabulary: one is surprised to see in a novel words such as 'cinereous,' 'segued,' and 'cantillated,' but his choice of words is always correct, and loads the style with a weight appropriate to its themes. A subcontinent of humour underlies this novel, but it is muted and is used more to show surviving remnants of vitality in characters than, as in Naipaul, for ironic thematic statements. When India went to war with China in the early 1960s, Gustad Noble patriotically put up blackout paper over every opening in his home that could let light out - or in. Nine years later, with a new...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 21-53
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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