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Mr. & Mrs. Gg

by Frank Davey

Writer, poet, and professor Frank Davey puts Canada’s Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, and her husband, novelist and philosopher John Ralston Saul, under the microscope in the economical, occasionally snippy, but smartly argued Mr. & Mrs. GG.

Given the generally critical tone of the book, it’s no surprise that neither Clarkson nor Saul are interviewed here, though their speeches, books, media bites, and announcements and pronouncements are extensively quoted – and thereafter often exposed for their hypocrisy, or at least their occasional snobbism. Though it does trace the background of the viceregal couple, the book is less an exposé than a rigorous analysis and dissection of the mythology Clarkson has constructed for herself and for her adopted country.

The Liberal government appointed the former broadcaster, writer, and maven of state-sponsored culture as the Queen’s representative in Canada in 1999, opportunistically depicting her as a refugee and immigrant and the embodiment of Canadian diversity and success. Clarkson frequently uses the rags-to-riches story herself, but, Davey argues, this is disingenuous, since Clarkson (née Poy) and her family were well off in their native Hong Kong. Clarkson also spoke English before she came to Canada, and her well-connected father had worked for the Canadian Trade Commission in Hong Kong for 13 years before the family emigrated.

Davey suggests that far from being representative of the Canadian immigrant experience, Clarkson is a self-styled sophisticate and dilettante who has tried at several turns to shed her ethnicity in favour of roast beef, high culture, Rosedale salons, and Anglo establishment pageantry. As she is a stand-in for the Queen, perhaps Clarkson’s lofty, highly symbolic notions are perfectly suited for her lofty, highly symbolic office. Davey is somewhat sympathetic to Clarkson’s position, though, acknowledging that some of the petty criticisms of her are thinly veiled racism and sexism.

As for Saul, Davey rakes him over the academic coals, suggesting he’s a pop philosopher whose work impresses general readers but whose musings are thin gruel to the academic community. Davey also takes the two to task for Saul’s claim that he and Clarkson’s brand of enthusiastic, left-leaning humanism is non-ideological.