07 September 2011

A Son's Lies My Father Told Me

Lies My Father Told Me
Norman Allan
Toronto: Signet, 1975

Back in May, I described novelizations of Canadian films as the rarest of things; I can think of only two, Whispering City and Lies My Father Told Me. This one is particularly interesting in that it was written by Norman Allan, son of novelist, playwright and screenwriter Ted Allan. We have here a son's version of his father's work.

Allan père did very well with this semi-autobiographical tale. What began as a short magazine piece, was adapted for radio, television, the cinema and, finally, the stage. Allan fis draws nothing from the original story – not so much as a sentence is similar – rather he follows his father's screenplay. Dedication is such that when the younger Allan does depart, as happens twice, one wonders whether he's not included a scene that was left on the cutting room floor. This is not to belittle his effort; the writing is tight and more than competent. The unabtrusive debut of a man who had never before published a work of fiction, it features some fairly strong imagery. Here David, the protagonist, races to feed his grandfather's horse:
I hurry along the balcony, three stories above the cobbled courtyard: three stories and a romance above Ferdeleh's stable there. A dozen dwellings, tenements of poverty, boxed and stacked: thirteen dwellings, counting Ferdeleh's, share the hemmed-in courtyard, their awkward wooden stairways sculpturing the skeletons of grotesque fairy castles. The gingerbread's all taken away, leaving only a matchstick grandeur...

I received Lies My Father Told Me as a gift back in 1976. In those dinosaur days – before Beta, VHS, DVDs and Netflix – novelizations such as these were pretty much the only way to revisit films. There were repatory theatres, of course, but I don't remember Lies My Father Told Me being offered. Television was as it is now: a crap shoot.

Jonathan Coe once described novelizations as "that bastard, misshapen offspring of the cinema and the written word". He's probably right – I agree with him on much else. But Lies My Father Told Me is the only novelization I've ever read... and I think it's pretty good.

Object: A very slim, mass market paperback with eight pages of stills from the film. Three pages of adverts provide much needed bulk. All movie-related, they range from an "exclusive movie edition" of The Three Musketeers to this biography of a hot star who had long ago gone cold:

The most interesting, I think, is the full-page push above for TV Movies.

"America's second largest indoor sport". How ribald.

Access: Six copies are currently listed online, five of which go for between one and six dollars. Only four of our university libraries hold the book – not one is located in Montreal. Patrons of public libraries are, predictably, limited to that serving the good citizens of Toronto. Library and Archives Canada fails yet again.

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