Thomas Wharton, Salamander

Too busy to get deeply into book? No time to read? I hear that, and my schedule can compete with anybody else's, but I've burned an inexplicably large number of unavailable hours over the last few weeks with Thomas Wharton's Salamander, and you should do the same.

Though my reading mostly consists of books that I think might work for me, and in consequence I'm rarely displeased living inside the books that I do, I haven't felt as addicted to a book in a long time as I was to Salamander. I can't think of a way to describe the novel that doesn't end up carving up its potential readership into a niche inside a subgroup within a sector, but the impression's what I want to sell, not the book's content: more than any book I read last year (and I read some good ones), Salamander was impossible to put down.

For those keeping a close eye, yes, you're right, I did say that Richard Wagamese's Medicine Walk was the best book to appear in Canada in 2014, as well as the best book I've read in who knows how long, and I did say that John McPhee is always amazing: how could I argue with myself?

My point, simply, is that this book should be a passion not for a deeply subdivided group of potential readers, but for the sum of all its potential readerships. You like a technological fantasy, something like steampunk but not exactly? Bring on the mechanical sailing ship, the automatons, and the impossible clockwork castle. Your tastes run toward historical romance? Let's visit Montreal on the eve of Wolfe's defeat of Montcalm, admire a Slovakian countess's impossible love, meet a black female pirate pursued by an implacable foe, and worry about the mysterious backstory and fate a tattooed orphan ignorant both of his name and of his country of origin. You'd prefer perhaps more or less realist historical fiction? Spend some time with an 18th-century printer and bookbinder, or explore the over-crowded streets of 1740s London.

And that's not even bringing up the Kabbala-related magic-like ink, type, and paper.

None of its genre divisions exclude readers who'd be more likely to stumble in while in search of their usual desires, and the book's more powerful because of the overlap and collision between all these things. Seriously, it's such fun, even if you don't care that the research's impeccable and the literariness beyond reproach. You won't even notice, though if you do, you'll appreciate it all the more.

When I first read Wharton's Icefields, I didn't quite get it, though I've taught the book twice since then and found it very rewarding. His peculiar novel The Logogryph worked for me immediately, though, and I'm scheming to get my hands on the rest of his work. These three novels are very different from each other, and all remarkable: Thomas Wharton is very much a novelist worth following.


Popular Posts