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This Is Our Writing

by T.F. Rigelhof

In This is Our Writing, T.F. Rigelhof, a teacher at Montreal’s Dawson College, evaluates the achievements of Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Mavis Gallant, and other Canadian prose writers. Some of these pizzazzy essays previously appeared in newspapers or magazines, which lends the volume a loosely-stitched-together quality. The perceptions are nonetheless deft.

In a finely turned skewering of Robertson Davies, Rigelhof singles out the Salterton trilogy as a house of marked cards, a cheat of self-pity, and a swindle of supercilious twaddle that raised itself up by denigrating everything else. Davies emerges as a middle-brow melodramatist, in contrast to the venerable image he confected for himself. By contrast, a reassessment of Cohen’s writing restores his novel The Favourite Game to pride of place in his oeuvre, and a reconsideration of Margaret Laurence esteems A Jest of God a small masterpiece.

Two unspoken assumptions are made about the writers convoked in these pages. First, our writing, in this case, refers mostly to authors from Montreal. Far from being a defect, this turns out to be a virtue. The personal tone of this criticism makes This is Our Writing a charming guided tour through the city, especially the lower reaches of Westmount where many authors have lived or live still.

The second assumption is less tenable. Our writing refers mostly to writers born before the Second World War. Younger authors such as Thomas Wharton, Steven Heighton, and Caroline Adderson attract fleeting recognition in a chapter called “Why Read What They Write?” Heighton gets several paragraphs, but he is alone in being assessed at length. Younger writers on the whole deserve more attention from a critic who has read as widely and astutely as Rigelhof. The crucial question of what comprises our literature is not just its past, but also, surely, its future.