The new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrived Friday, just in time for the first day of summer, bringing another Dusty Bookcase sur papier. Under the microscope this time is St. Cuthbert's of the West, the debut novel by Reverend Robert E. Knowles, who by small coincidence was the subject of Friday's post.
St. Cuthbert's of the West – a/k/a St. Cuthbert's – is the most difficult, most time-consuming novel I've read since embarking on this exercise. Knowles had defeated me in the past, but this time I persevered, pushing mind and tortured soul through what may very well be the most trying 317 pages in our country's literature.
To anyone who questions the weight of this accomplishment, I present this sample dialogue:
“The session ’ll mebbe listen to me, for I’ve been yir precentor these mony years. We’ll hae nae mair o’ thae havers. Wha wants their hymes? Naebody excep’ a when o’ gigglin’ birkies. Give them the hymes, an we’ll hear Martyrdom nae mair, an’ Coleshill an’ Duke Street ’ll be by. For what did oor fathers dee it wasna for the psalms o’ Dauvit? An’ they dee’d to the tunes I’ve named to ye.”The novel deals primarily with the politics and parishioners of a nineteenth-century Ontario Presbyterian church.
No more need be said.
Hey, remember these?
I do in this issue's "CNQ Timeline".
As always, the rest is rich. Editor Alex Good contributes a twenty-page essay on last year's Scotiabank Giller Prize, joining Stephen Henighan as one of the few critics to who really understand what the hell is going on. We also have a Ray Robertson essay, Carmine Starnino's interview with Michael Harris, Harold Heft's interview with Kenneth Sherman, new fiction from C.P. Boyko, three poems by Kerry-Lee Powell and, ahem, Bruce Whiteman's review of The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco. John Degen, Diana Tamblyn, Kerry Clare, J.C. Sutcliffe , Michael Bryson, Emily Donaldson and Jeff Bursey round out the issue. As always, Seth provides the cover, this time adding an appreciation of Duncan Macpherson. He was, writes Seth, "Canada's greatest political cartoonist". True, so very true.
Yes, summer is here. Emboldened by having at long last tackled a Robert E. Knowles novel I look to my shelves and see that the damaged reverend offers five more.
But they can hardly be considered summer reading.