Richard B. Wright, Clara Callan

I'm OK with the success of Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan: winning both the Governor-General's Award and the Giller Prize in 2001, with more than 200,000 copies sold in Canada. But I'm much more than OK with the idea that the reasons behind its success explain why this novel bored me out of my mind.

Wright's a very good writer. These are believable characters, in a detail-rich and realistic setting (small-town Ontario plus New York City, in the mid-1930s), and they're thoughtful in interesting ways. But it's so, so not for me: I kept imagining Ontario-based fiction prize judges checking off all the boxes for highbrow CanLit: Ontario setting, preferably small-town; leftish politics, preferably including non-threatening Communism; at least one character a schoolteacher; historical significance, but also non-threatening (Spanish Civil War, prelude to WW2, references in the afterword to McCarthyism); alcohol; rape; infidelity. "Check - I smell awards!"

Wright's a very good novelist. But this is a nonessential novel for me, so much so that I kept thinking I'd read bits of this novel before. Looming behind it, for example, is the far superior (but darker) Ann-Marie Macdonald's Fall On Your Knees, and I'm kind of grumpy that I had to spend a few days reading this: I might have quit on it, not because I disliked it (as was the case with Orhan Pamuk's Snow), but because it seemed so ... unnecessary.

I bet the mook club uses this as a chance to articulate more clearly what we want to read, so we don't end up with this sort of thing again. None of us had any idea what it was about; we only knew the title and the awards, so we're going to want to choose books we know something about.

Comments

RJW said…
I believe I warned you about Clara Callan...
richard said…
Maybe, maybe - but you know, I remembered it as you confirming that David Black (the RRU prof, not the media tyrant - um, tycoon) was right that Wright would be a good read.... I suggested Clara Callan because it was in paperback rather than new in hardcover, not knowing the slightest thing about it!
fiona-h said…
aha - I don't think I'd read this post before! Background for the recent interview...
richard said…
Would this have been useful? :-)
fiona-h said…
You answer the question Sheryl posed...
richard said…
Well, yes - too bad she doesn't have a whole research department!

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