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Callaghan, Morley.

Toronto, Macmillan, c1985. 215pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-7715-9837-8. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by James Kingstone

Volume 13 Number 5
1985 September

Though distinguished by his usual strong and supple prose style, good writing alone is insufficient to redeem Callaghan's most recent short novel, Our Lady of The Snows. Inspired by the short story "The Enchanted Pimp", published in 1977, the novel covers much of the same ground and seems to have a derivative quality about it. Notwithstanding elements of mystery, interesting characterization, and one or two plot twists, the work falls flat.

The reader takes an interest in the protagonist, the shadowy "hooker healer" whose aristocratic bearing, chosen profession, and from at least one point of view, misguided missionary zeal, add up to an incongruous whole that almost deflects attention away from the inadequacies of the novel. In addition, Edmund J Dubuque, the gangster who lives on the edge of respectability, and Gil Gilhooley, the barman-cum-novelist, engage our interest as we move slowly through murky waters in a very familiar modern-day Toronto. The ironic dimension to each of these characters, the beautiful prostitute who reaches out to console the impoverished and luckless, for instance, draws us into the action, but we are throughout led to believe that these characters have capacities that remove them from ordinary society and make their lives more interesting, even glamorous. In the end, however, the major characters disappoint because they are not capable of the dramatic urgency, nor of the depth of recognition, we have been persuaded is a part of their character. As a result, there are significant weaknesses in the pacing of the novel, its characterization, (which is many-sided and could have sustained more but seems to go nowhere), and the plot, which convinces us to expect bold revelations in the end.

Finally, the beautiful Ilona does not take up the Dubuque who pursues her for the entire novel, nor does she remain with Sills with whom she has a brief and curious affair in Mexico, (the point of which escaped this reader), but ends up leaving Toronto for Montreal where she finds a man who lives on a boat: a man, we assume, who is more to her style and taste, though we are given few clues. At the end of the novel we are given this summation:

Ilona was at home on the sea, at one
with the waters, the nurturing waters
washing around all human shores.
Ilona with her ancient gift, sailing the
seas of God.

There is something metaphorical at work here. Gilhooley says at one point to Dubuque that Ilona has made it "to the other shore" but it seems introduced too late, because even on second reading the structure of metaphor appears loose and obscure. Ilona's apparent escape in the final pages of Our Lady is a disappearing act of puzzling proportions. The last pages, as a result, confuse when they should clarify, so that although Dona seemed capable of taking others "across seas (they) never really will sail" the evidence of a special journey on which the reader joins them seems thin and speculative. One is left with the feeling that the novel is something of a conjuring trick when more has always been expected of this great writer.

James Kingstone, Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ont.
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