Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reader's Diary #1068- Sheila Watson: The Double Hook

Sheila Watson's The Double Hook reminded me somewhat of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Some, I'm sure, would take that to be a good thing.

I found it difficult and oddly offensive. For one, the perspective kept changing. Third person omniscient perspective never sits well with me, but when it even changes without warning one paragraph to the next, I'm confused. For the other, I found the portrayal of small townsfolk to be like someone trying to suggest that there's "something poignant in their stupid words." The problem, clearly, is that this do-gooder attitude rests on an air of condescension. Characters all talk like they've experienced some brain-damaging trauma and yet also in vague and weirdly angular thoughts, so that a reader might suspect they've actually been profound.

Furthermore, the whole "deep" message of the book, that you hook the darkness when you catch the light, is lost when there's too much focus on the darkness. It's also no more high-fallootin' an idea than a certain sitcom theme song, "you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have, the Facts of Life..."

In the afterword at the end, F. T. Flahiff discusses the trouble Watson had finding a publisher and an early negative review. While the reviewer got some of the facts wrong, I think s/he was nonetheless accurate by calling the book "difficult" (which may have led to him/her getting some details incorrect) and "permeated by an odd atmosphere of unreality."

1 comment:

Eric P said...

I haven't read The Double Hook and it is way down on my list of Canadian lit to read (honestly I may never get to it), so I can't judge whether your review is "fair." I often will give experimental writers a bit of extra slack (say Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and certainly Faulkner and Joyce's Ulysses) but at the same time, they sometimes go too far (see Finnegan's Wake). What is disappointing is what you are describing -- using deliberately obscurant language to mask a relatively threadbare plot or fairly trivial observations. Interestingly, Hegel was well known to deliberately write badly to make his only moderately profound thoughts seem much deeper.