Thursday, September 29, 2011
I'm a long term admirer of Gilmour's fiction in a grudging sort of way, have been ever since his first (and possibly still best) one, Back on Tuesday. He is an enviably graceful writer and, at his best, a wonderfully economical storyteller, a sort of combination of Hemingway and Salinger but taking himself less seriously than either of those two. (These sorts of comparisons are cheap but hard to resist.)
At the same time, at the simple level of connecting to a book, of liking its hero, I've always had a problem with Gilmour. And that's especially true this time around. This is a novel that reads like a memoir (and since Gilmour is a well-known man-about-town, it's hard not to associate the author with his character) and it's hard, for me at least, not to feel that the narrator is, well, an ass. Without going on about it, he strikes me as sexist, homophobic, and ridiculously vain as he recounts his various griefs, most involving women (always sexually alluring, sometimes treacherous) who for one reason or another he was no longer allowed to bed.
But the thing is--and I think it really is the thing--Gilmour lets us judge his character any way we like. And the simple truth is that most people are far less good than characters in novels (even great novels). He reminds me of Philip Roth or Nick Hornby, two very different writers, I know, but who share with Gilmour a willingness to present their unattractive maleness to the world.
Being a novel made up largely of memories, it doesn't have the forward-moving energy or quite beautiful form of his last novel, A Perfect Night to Go to China. On the other hand, Gilmour allows himself to wander farther here, so that there is, for example, a tremendously enjoyable chapter that pivots on his love for Tolstoy's War and Peace, and another (far more petty, but Gilmour allows himself that too) on the pain of a negative review.
Gilmour might indulge himself, but he doesn't pander to the reader. I can't imagine him writing a novel about World War Two, or the first Canadian balloonist, or moving north of the tree line--or on any other subject that helps to put a Canadian novel on the bestseller list. (To be fair, I like some of those books.) It feels like he has written exactly the novel he has wanted to write.
(David Gilmour, The Perfect Order of Things. Thomas Allen, $27.95.)