Saturday, February 02, 2013
Reader's Diary #944- Hugh MacLennan: Two Solitudes
I bring this up because, as I've already stated, I've been concurrently reading this year's Canada Reads contenders. For the most part it's worked out great and I can easily pick my favourites and compare them thoroughly, simply based on enjoyment and eagerness to switch to the next book. However it's not foolproof, and Two Solitudes may have suffered from my system. Basically I chose different times of the day or week for each book: February was my morning coffee book, Indian Horse and The Age of Hope were my weekend books, Away was my (ahem) bathroom book, and Two Solitudes was my bedtime book.
To be fair to Two Solitudes, maybe it was as boring or confusing as I thought, maybe I was just tired. But I will say that I've read plenty of books at bedtime before and many of them were compelling enough to keep me awake. Two Solitudes did not.
I found Two Solitudes to be too serious and too gloomy. Dealing with the whole French-English divide thing for over 500 pages was just about more than I could bear. I understand that for some people, especially in certain parts of the country, it was and remains a real issue, but it's never been a big factor in my life (and my kids are in French immersion, by the way). The way MacLennan presents it is as if it's all Canadians ever think about, as if Canada only has two cultures and those two cultures are in a constant struggle with one another.
It doesn't help that MacLennan seems to flounder about looking for a central character. It begins with Athanase Tallard, a Quebecois who marries an Irish woman and increasingly, through his business plans, disagreements with the Catholic church, and his politics, finds himself alienated in a community where he and his family before him, had been like royalty. This in and of itself could have made a strong point, but with still half a book to go, MacLennan kills off Athanase and toys briefly with making his oldest son Marius (from his first, now deceased wife) the star of the book. Unlike Athanase who learned a lesson about being two eager to adopt the ways of the "other side," through Marius we're to learn a lesson about being too resistant to the other side. There, another good point to end on. Nope. We also have to see this thing through with Paul, Athanase's second son, of mixed French and English heritage. He, of course, goes through the internal struggle, blah, blah, blah and I think he comes to the conclusion, or we're supposed to, that like Canada, his two sides are just going to have to appreciate that they live side by side, will never fully mix, but strengthen each other with their co-existence, just as the title promised us all along. Well, la-dee-da.
Lighten up already.