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In My Own Name: A Memoir

by Maureen McTeer

This memoir is a bit of a slog. Not because Maureen McTeer hasn’t led an interesting life in politics and academia or met fascinating people in her privileged position as wife of a prime minister and foreign minister – the book is a slog because she is a dull storyteller.

In My Own Name reminds us of a simple truth: sometimes good people write bad books. That’s why celebrities hire ghost writers. McTeer’s chief failing is her writing style, which is stilted and dispassionate. The memoir reads as if McTeer is writing for a judgmental relative and is holding back on all of the good stuff. Consider this opening to Chapter 14: “When Joe [Clark] was Canada’s foreign minister from 1984 to 1991, I often had the opportunity to travel with him and I learned much about cultures very different from my own.” You want to scream: “Tell the story like you’d tell it to friends over drinks.”

It could just be her personality. Take for instance when her husband Joe Clark proposed to her. She was 20 in 1972 when she went to work for him as his assistant; he surprised her by sending her flowers on Valentine’s Day in 1973 and her birthday a few days later; then he went away for a Parliamentary break. When he came back, he asked her to dinner and proposed. No courtship, no flirtation, no emotion, no passion. She responded in kind, coming up with a number of reasons why they should marry, but love wasn’t on the list. He had met his match.

The book didn’t have to be this tedious. In many respects, McTeer is Canada’s Hillary Rodham Clinton, a comparison that McTeer also invokes. She has been anything but a traditional political wife. During her marriage she got a law degree, became a legal activist and teacher, and has served on a number of boards and committees, most famously the Royal Commission on Reproductive Technology, from which she was fired.

Like Rodham Clinton, McTeer gained a certain notoriety for not taking her husband’s name when she married. It became an issue after Clark was the surprise winner as party leader in 1976 and continued to dog the couple for years. On this provocative, if somewhat dated issue, McTeer is dismissive, claiming that it should never have become a talking point in the first place. Then she named her book after it.