23 June 2014

St. Cuthbert's and the Rest

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.

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  1. You're like an heroic Voyageur making his way into the obscure hinterlands . . . of Canadian letters. You should receive a medal just for your efforts with this (unknown to me, like every other obscure author you unveil) Rev. Knowles.

    I've yet to read a copy of CNQ, a confession which reveals my distance from Can Lit, but, I must say this issue does tempt me, if only for Whiteman's review of your book. Cheers.

    1. The first any of my actions have been described as "heroic". Thank you. I have the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Stratford to thank for first introducing me to Reverend Knowles. Once one book is spotted, the others follow in rapid succession. It's all quite mystical, really. CNQ is an unrecognized national treasure. Cheers!

  2. A bit of serendipitous karma today as I browsed the shelves of the local Goodwill and discovered, Knowles' St. Cuthbert's (Fleming Revell, 1915, 3rd issue) surrounded by rows of popular fiction of our day (literally shelves of Meyer's Eclipse books and James' 50 Shades). At $4 it is a bargain I guess. Good shape.

    Having limited funds after buying gas, I had to accept the slap in the face from Karma at my ignorance of great swathes of Can Lit, and make my way home, suitably chastened.

    1. I don't know, four dollars seems a touch high, (particularly for a third issue). Or maybe not. I'm beginning to move Knowles into position beside Ralph Connor, a fellow author of the cloth, as someone whose books were once incredibly popular in certain quarters. Connor's had all of North America, while Knowles had only Southern Ontario and neighbouring American states

      I may be wrong.

      If you are at all interested, I will happily lend you one of my three copies… and throw in a bottle of Aspirin.

      Take two, call me in the morning, but please don't mention St. Cuthbert's.