Two Solitudes (1945, 469 pages)
INTRO: From Historica Canada: “Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan (Toronto, New York and Des Moines, 1945), is a novel whose title has become emblematic of Canada’s most troubling legacy: the relations between English and French Canadians. Using historical settings within a mythological framework, MacLennan explores the tensions in these relations from WWI to 1939. The French Canadian realities are set in the parish of Saint-Marc-des-Érables, which is dominated by its priest, Father Beaubien, and by Athanase Tallard, a powerful but tragic figure ostracized by his church for trying to industrialize the village. Montréal, on the other hand, is dominated by characters such as Huntley McQueen, a Presbyterian businessman from Ontario. Tallard’s son Paul, at home in both languages but alienated from both cultures, embarks on an Odyssean quest for his own identity and for a vision of Canada as he struggles to write a novel which will define his own Canadian experience.”
Get into it Katy, this is the daddy of Canadian Lit. A family saga where the family – spoiler alert – is Canada. This is also the book that made me start referring to Katy and I as “Two Solid Dudes” when writing these reviews. And unfortunately we are not creative enough to come up with a better title than that.
Róisín: This book has everything: Separatists, blackmailing priests, and a wise old sea captain with one leg. After reading this, a lot of my parents’ and grandparents’ feelings about Canada, and specifically about Quebec (as Ontarians) make sense. I barely remember the Quebec referendum of the 1995, other than that stock footage that the CBC seemed to run all the time of the “Non” and “Oui” signs hung up on the outside staircases that only seem to exist on Montreal duplexes. So this book feels like a historical novel for me, although it was cutting commentary at the time. I do have to say I found myself skimming over some of the philosophical tangents in the book, or the parables (including an anecdote about two rapscallions in Nova Scotia called Luther and Calvin, lol get it?).
I read this much quicker than I thought I would. And – apart from the aforementioned skimmed passages – I found it highly enjoyable. You know all those literary classics that your high school teachers said you’d enjoy when you were older when you said they were too boring? I think I’m older now! Because I did not find this boring at all.
Kathleen: This was excellent! I also read it faster than I expected – the whole book moves at a great pace. The whole book was very thoughtful and well-written, and wordy in a way that I actually really enjoyed (has anyone ever used ‘wordy’ in a positive way before?). All the characters (there are a lot!) were complex and interesting, and even though there were a zillion tertiary characters (maybe only a million, idk), I never forgot who any of them were. But everyone was full of dreams and passion and they were ALL GREAT. Especially the ladies.
Róisín: Can we talk about how the Historica Canada’s blurb calls French and English Canadian relations “Canada’s most troubling legacy”? Yikes.
Kathleen: I had never actually heard the term “Two Solitudes” before? What did I learn in school? We’ll never know.
Should it be on the 30 before 30?
Róisín: Yep! Is this the first “classic” on our list? I feel like we get it now.
Kathleen: Yes! I think this is a solid choice for this list.
THURSDAY’S REVIEW: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel