M. Wylie Blanchet, The Curve of Time

If you haven't read Blanchet's The Curve of Time, you haven't earned the right to live on the British Columbia coast. You just haven't. You're not alone in not having earned it, even among those millions who do, but really -- change your ways.

First published in Britain in 1961, then in 1968 in Sidney, BC, by tiny Gray's Publishing, The Curve of Time has been on or near the bestseller list in the province ever since. I haven't been able to figure out how many copies have sold, but ... lots. I grew up with the understanding that there were two books necessary on any British Columbian's shelf: Robert Service's collected works, and The Curve of Time. This wasn't meant to indicate literary merit, clearly, just that it's foundational material for understanding this particular place.

I'm the one insisting on its literary merit, not my parents.

It's told as a more or less single narrative, but it draws on a decade or more of summer trips between Vancouver Island and the mainland, on the little boat the Caprice. Blanchet had five small children and was left single after the disappearance of her husband in 1927, not long after the last was born. There is no mention of the husband, no mention of love interests at all: this is no more and no less than a story of a woman and her children, travelling together through love and risk in pursuit of huckleberries and trout and warm places to swim.

The title is a reference to Maurice Maeterlinck's book The Fourth Dimension, which was on board the boat for one year and talked about time as the fourth dimension, since it allows us a different kind of perspective on the three physical dimensions. Blanchet begins the book with this reference and reaches back to it a few times, but hers is a gentle rather than a showy literariness. It explains her decision to tell stories out of order, to have events seem to follow each other even though the children suddenly get rather older, or much younger.

And the events really are lovely. We would now view her treatment of the First Nations villages as disrespectful, certainly, and the family's surreptitious entries into padlocked longhouses would justifiably be grounds for criminal charges now. Still, she approaches the world, including First Nations individuals and groups, as well as the white individuals she meets, with a sense of wonder and warmth that makes this book a long-time fellow traveller in my sense of self.

I'm always so pleased to make this book's acquaintance again; this was the first full read in 10 years, maybe longer, but I've dipped into it regularly since then. It's probably the one book I've read more than any other, with the possible exception of (embarrassingly) the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Are you ready to earn the right to live here, whether or not you already do?


fiona-h said…
Yes - I'll look for this one. Embarrassed to say that not only have I not read it, I havn't even heard of it. My education is truly dreadful.
richard said…
Terribly deficient, you are :-)

But you know, it was published in the 1960s about events in the 1930s, complete with outmoded politics. It's a regionally important book, but there's no pretending that it still represents the province we actually live in. Without it, a person's idea of coastal BC is missing a little context, that's all.
Lee said…
What a magnificent review. This largely unnoticed gem has been among my all-time favorite books, as well. Blanchet is someone to whom I often refer just in ordinary conversation, for I learned a great deal from her story. Hers is a book, in other words, whose story has become an important part of my own life because it has influenced it--and continues to do so--in a variety of ways. It is a wonderful delight to find someone else who values her perspectives and her writing just as much as I do. This is surely an important work for B.C. folks, yes; but it should also become an important read for anyone else in the English-speaking world. (I don't know if translations exist.) Thank you for such a thoughtful review.
richard said…
Thanks so much, Marilyn. I'm teaching the book again this fall, at the university where I work, and I'm hoping that it speaks to my students. Every year, I'm another year older than they are, but the history's still alive that this book portrays. I'm optimistic!
Just wanted everyone to know that Post Hypnotic Press is recording this lovely book, with Heather Henderson narrating. This is a dream job for Heather, who loves books about this area of the world, and this book in particular. We are so pleased, as a Canadian company, situated in New Westminster, BC, to be recording this very British Columbian classic. I haven't added it to our upcoming page yet, but it will be there soon, or, under biography and memoir in our catalogue: www.posthypnoticpress.com.

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