Friday, December 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1428- Lawrence Osgood: Midnight Sun

One of the bigger controversies in Bookland in 2016 came from Lionel Shriver's speech about the right of authors to take on the voice of someone from another culture, another gender, another sexual orientation, and so on, regardless of whether or not said group has had a history of being exploited and misrepresented. Personally, the whole debate made me uncomfortable, but that surely was the intent and it's good to feel uncomfortable from time to time. And as always, while I don't agree with extremes on either side of this debate, it was surely an important conversation to have.

In 1993 Annie Proulx wrote about Newfoundland in the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel The Shipping News. Hailing from Newfoundland, of course I had to read it. It left an odd feeling. On the one hand, the story and writing were good, on the other, Newfoundland felt... off. The setting, and more importantly, the people, didn't ring true. I maintain that Annie Proulx had a right to write about us, but should she have? (Later she would write about gay, male cowboys.) I want to stress that by asking the question, I am not suggesting that she shouldn't have, but truly pondering out loud.

All of which takes me to Lawrence Osgood's Midnight Sun, a novel that largely employs the supposed perspective of various Inuit characters and incorporates Inuit legends into the plot. Osgood, for the record, is not Inuit but had lived and worked in the Canadian Arctic for a number of years. To say that the question of whether or not Osgood should even be writing this book was a distraction would be an understatement. But that's fair; it should be something to consider. The way a mysterious white lady is fawned over and fetishized as a supernatural being reminded me of the way the tribes people of The Gods Must Be Crazy reacted to the mysterious Coca-Cola bottle. Such a comparison can't be good.

But then, there's a complimentary blurb from respected Inuvialuit politician and Inuit rights activist Rosemarie Kuptana on the cover, and surely she has more claim to be offended by Osgood's appropriation than I. If she's fine with it, why shouldn't I be?

Well, just as, I suppose, you'll find a range of opinions from Newfoundlanders about The Shipping News, I don't doubt that some Inuit would agree with Kuptana and some would disagree.

All the politics aside (but not out of mind), the story and writing itself is quite interesting. Blending supernatural with political drama, a unique setting, and complex characters, and solid writing, Midnight Sun is compelling the whole way through.

No comments: