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Book Reviews

Raise You Five: Essays and Encounters 1964-2004: Volume One

by Barry Callaghan; $, pp.,

One can only assume that if Barry Callaghan had had any choice in the matter, the occupation of writer wouldn’t have been high on his career wish list. Before Atwood, before Munro, before Ondaatje, there was Morley Callaghan, for a long time Canada’s only truly internationally recognized writer. Someone like Evelyn Waugh’s son Auberon, at least, wasn’t the aspiring scribbling son of his country’s only writer of distinction, which was essentially the situation Barry Callaghan found himself in when he began his lengthy career as fiction writer, poet, and journalist in the mid-1960s.

Of course, the younger Callaghan, like his father and any other writer, didn’t have any choice at all, he had to become a writer. That he became, along with Atwood and Richler, one of Canada’s pre-eminent persons of letters is as much a testament to his psychic mettle as to his talents and lifelong dedication to his craft.

Raise You Five gathers together, for the first time, a generous sample of Callaghan’s protean journalistic output: book reviews, profiles, literary criticism, travel reporting, polemics, even memorials. Taken in conjunction with his numerous books of fiction and poetry, Raise You Five confirms that Barry Callaghan, like Edmund Wilson, America’s best 20th-century critic and one of Morley Callaghan’s closest literary friends (and one of Callaghan junior’s formative literary role models), is that rarest of writers, one capable of creating art out of whatever raw material he chooses or is chosen for him.

To the artist whose medium is words, a well-written sentence is the marrow of his or her work. In the beginning is the word, and then another one, and then another one, until you have a sentence, and then you begin all over again. Reading Raise You Five straight through, it becomes difficult – and, ultimately, unnecessary – to keep track of which genre Callaghan is working in, the writing throughout being uniformly sharp, redolent, and alive, regardless of the subject matter.

In the frontispiece of every issue of Exile, the still-thriving literary magazine that Barry Callaghan helped found three decades ago, there’s a quotation from Julio Cortazar: “The only true exile is the writer who lives in his own country.” Raise You Five is a testament of one writer who stayed, lived, and wrote about it, in spite of the spectre of a famous father who did the same.