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Duffy, Dennis.

Toronto, ECW Press, c1986. 84pp, paper, ISBN 0-920763-15-4 (cloth) $24.00, 0-920763-14-6 (paper) $14.00 CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Joan Kerrigan

Volume 15 Number 3
1987 May

Historical fiction in Canada is not, on the whole, regarded as fascinating enough to send the pulses racing. However, there have been many exceptions as Dennis Duffy proves in this well-organized overview of the subject. The scope is works written about Canada by Canadians, and the title is taken from an article by Al Purdy in Books in Canada: "The oddness, the strange differences between then and now sometimes give you a feeling that here we are, the warm, living and visible tip of a cold invisible dead iceberg below the surface of time."

The essay is divided into three sections: "1832-1919 (Life Along the Bridges)," "1919-1966 (Rivers and Empty Souls)," "1970-1983 (La Violence, Le Sang, et La Neige)." The earliest period produced a number of romantic novels, with an overlay of the two nationalisms, French and English. The next stage involved such themes as choice, the preservation of society against hostile forces, and the image of national reconciliation. Some of these novels included some very bad books, such as a few by Ralph Connor (e.g., The Runner) and some good ones like The Imperialist, which Duffy believes "may be one of the finest novels written in Canada before 1920." The novels in the contemporary period are far more complex and interesting, as the names of authors such as Timothy Findley, Graeme Gibson, Anne Hebert, and Rudy Wiebe would attest.

Professor Duffy has written a brief overview of the Canadian historical novel (in both French and English) that will provide a leading-off place for senior secondary students who are engaged in an independent study of this particular genre. The material is written at a very senior level and would have more use in a post-secondary setting.

Joan Kerrigan, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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