Matthew Hooton, Deloume Road (revisited)

I'll confess, straight up, that I got it wrong: Matthew Hooton's debut novel Deloume Road is a whole lot better than my first review said it was. Sure, I could say pretentiously that reading, like time, is a river, and it's not the same river when you step into a novel for a second time, or maybe you're not the same person the second time, or whatever Eckhart Tolle would say if he was a book reviewer.

This time around, I hung on every word, every section. Deliberately, and for days, I forced myself to stop reading, to stretch out the process, because while I wanted to race through Deloume Road, there was just no way I wanted to surrender the experience. I don't feel compelled to this step very often, reining in my reading to sustain its duration, but as I said some years ago about Theresa Kishkan's collection Phantom Limb and Alistair Macleod's Island, it's such a treat that I'm entirely prepared to trust it as an absolute indicator of a book's quality.

And yeah, an attentive (obsessive? - ed.) reader might have noticed that a recent note on Frances Greenslade's Shelter offered a clue I was still ruminating on Deloume Road, but I hadn't gone back and reread the novel to see whether my thinking had changed. Now I have; and it has.

This fall, I'm teaching Matt Hooton's novel Deloume Road in English 456 (Literature of British Columbia) at the University of Victoria. It'll be one of seven texts, four of them novels, and it's one of three contemporary works being set against three works from before the 70s CanLit boom period. Right now, it's the one book that -- by far -- I'll weep about if students don't respond lovingly. Before their jaded eyes, I'll spontaneously sprout ear-hair and a cane, start yelling about hiphop-lovin' whippersnappers in whose jail-broken iPhones the last germs of genuine taste have died messily.

(I wonder whether students get that their profs' blogs may not be quite serious -- if students ever read them, that is....)

It's a very slow burn, Deloume Road, with inexorable pacing that suddenly bursts, and when you read it slowly, attentively, you kick yourself for failing to catch the symbolism and internal references that you missed the first time. This is a smart, intimate novel, one of the finest I've ever read about anything to do with British Columbia, or about boyhood.

Mind you, I stand by my initial sense that the novel reads like a classic of high CanLit-ism, but let me look at it another way: we don't object to a painting because it's a great example of Impressionism, or Cubism, so why should this trouble me? I took no pleasure whatsoever in Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan, which is also a good example of high CanLit-ism, no pleasure at all, but they're different novels, and my different assessments don't in themselves signal mental instability. (Other things, well, you be the judge.)

In other words: students, you're going to have to convince me why I shouldn't be a fan of this book! Professors fall in love with books, just like every reader does, and you're going to have to work to move me off this position. I'm looking forward to the discussion, and to hearing other responses to Deloume Road. Books really can be good enough to deserve our passion, and I'm hoping there'll be plenty of passion in ENGL 456 this fall.


FH said…
Seems to me that you might have it a little backwards: the book hasn't changed, and even your reading of it hasn't changed. You have, though. This is going to approach a little close to the personal—feel free to block this comment if it's too ad hominem

In the first review you're cynical and resisting; you describe the strengths of the book but you don't care. You're writing in April, possibly around the end of a draining year of teaching.

In the second review, you're coming off a break, you are revitalized, idealistic, and forgiving. In fact, it seems as if the most important thing in your life is going to be how this novel will be received by your students.

Your actual analysis of the work hasn't changed very much at all.
You're just in a different mood.
richard said…
No, you're wrong, I think the words on the page are different from the ones I read last time.

Of course you're right, mostly, and I only block spam comments, so you're safe for now. The first time through the book, I felt like Deloume Road deserved to count as a classic work of Canadian literature, but I was feeling like CanLit criticism involved self-important readers talking to other self-important readers as Guardians Of Culture, gatekeeping the anointing oil by checking for particular criteria.

It's still a classic work of CanLit, but this time, I don't care about critical reception. I was totally engaged by this novel, the way I love to be engaged by fiction, and last time, for whatever reason, probably fatigue, you're right, I just couldn't get engaged. It really is a book that a person can be passionate about; it's not (just?) for academics and critics, and that's a very good thing.

Popular Posts