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Frank Davey

Winnipeg, Turnstone Press, 1988. 275pp, paper, $14.95
ISBN 0-88801-130-X. CIP

Reviewed by Joan Kerrigan.

Volume 17 Number 4
1989 July

Frank Davey is a professor of English at York University and has written many books of poetry and criticism. In these sixteen essays (published earlier in various Canadian and American journals), Davey candidly describes his position as "polemical and ideological." He deplores the fact that most Canadian reviewers do not view literary criticism as a political act; in his view, their viewpoints are, at best, disingenuous.

He also argues that most works of criticism in Canada depend upon the secondary and post-secondary education market. They are intended for students and their teachers. Many Canadian literature courses are being offered at the secondary and post-secondary level, and books of criticism have been written to fill a perceived need. The Canada Council has often supported the authors of many of these books, and a ready market has been available for a number of years. This support became particularly strong around the time of the centennial and has continued.

Within this general framework, Davey discusses the work of such writers as Louis Dudek, Raymond Souster, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Thomas, and E.J. Pratt. He also discusses certain genres, as in the essay "Genre Subversion in the English-Canadian Short Story." The opening sentence of this essay is really quite extraordinary:

The title of this essay is more a problem than a title, because the question of whether genre is sufficiently substantial a concept to be subject to subversion, or whether what might be subverted is a critical illusion rather than some 'thing1 called genre, is a difficult one, and not one I hope to resolve here-although obviously I have opinions, or perhaps illusions, about it.

After that rather large mouthful, Davey offers some interesting background about the genre and English Canada's contribution to it.

There is some thought-provoking material in this paperback collection. It is not easy reading and will prove a challenge to even advanced level secondary school students. For this reason, it is recommended primarily for libraries in post-secondary institutions.

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