12 November 2019

Three Little Women and One Big Spoiler

Frederick Niven wrote The Flying Years. I learned this as a teenager through a list of New Canadian Library titles printed in a copy of Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé's Canadians of Old.

The Flying Years was series title #102.

Frederick Niven... The Flying Years... I never saw mention of one without the other, and I never saw either in a bookstore.

For a long time, I thought Niven had written no other books, when in fact, he'd published more than thirty; from The Lost Cabin Mine (1908) to The Transplanted (1944), they span the better part of his life.

At some point last decade, I ordered a copy of The Flying Years, sight unseen, from an online bookseller – surely, it was the place to start in on things Niven – but when it arrived, it looked deathly dull. The publisher's assurance that its logo was a "SIGN OF A GOOD POPULAR NOVEL" did not sway, and I set it aside.

I continued to keep an eye out for Niven titles, but the only offerings I found were online. The Porcelain Lady sounded interesting. Who can't help but feel excitement in a title like Hands Up! One lone copy of Niven's 1927 novel Queer Fellows (US title: Wild Honey) was listed at £68 (with a further £11.21 in shipping), but I couldn't justify the expense.

So, imagine the thrill in finding a copy of The Three Marys (London: Collins, 1930) in an ill-lit, musty antique store not thirty kilometres from our home.

I paid $7.50!

There are so many things to like about this book. Let's beginning with it being a fifth impression. Who would've thought that Niven's readership was so large!

I like advert for Kolynos Dental Cream.

And if you lose the jacket, a second ad is stamped on the book itself.

I also like that the price intrudes on the spine and cover illustration.

And what of that illustration? Does the towering artist not intrigue? How about the petite women of increasing elegance?

Forget The Flying YearsThe Three Marys was the novel for me! A little research found that H.E. Bates liked The Three Marys, placing its author at "the front rank of contemporary story tellers." Writing in Everyman, Bates praised Niven's ability to create "real characters."

This past weekend, I sat down with The Three Marys. Not two minutes later, I put it aside, having read this:

And now I try to forget.

Should I have warned you? Chances are you'll never come across a copy.

I've never read a spoiler quite like the above. Can you blame me in sharing it?

So, I pick up my copy of The Flying Years and, after all this time, notice this on its cover:

Should I have been reading The Flying Years all along?

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  1. Another name to add to my list...

  2. "Work by Chilean-born Scots-Canadian novelist, Canada's favorite hobo writer."
    Now I'm really intrigued. Hobo writer?

    1. The novel begins with the protagonist as a young boy, standing aboard the "dank deck" of a steamer making its way from his Peruvian birthplace to his new home in Scotland.

      This is as far as I got before noticing the synopsis... and making the mistake of reading same.