his is the second campus novel I've read in a row from Porcupine's Quill, and approached it with trepidation. I enjoyed campus classics like Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, but think I mostly enjoyed the book because I could relate to it at the time. Trying to wipe all of this out of my mind, I cracked open Ray Smith's The Man Who Hated Emily Brontë and was engaged by a contemporary approach to the genre.
We follow Will Franklyn, the straight man to Smith's outrageous Harrison Morgan, as he tries to settle into a university post in Montreal. Will is new to both the city and the university game, and the disheveled, embittered Harrison becomes his unlikely mentor.
What can you expect? Bawdy humour and political commentary from Harrison:
'...This is Quebec. Along with the usual venality and corruption, we have shoplifting cabinet ministers and union leaders, former terrorists on the bench, and legislators consorting with underage prostitutes. Of course, if you look the wrong way at a girl in class you'll lose your job'.
The book follows the characters as they work through, and meditate on, their interpersonal relationships. Harrison has been scorned in love and Will gets lost in the women around him. Throughout, these characters work their way towards the oft-ridiculed university conference. This time round it is a conference held in Reykjavik by the Canada-Scandinavian Association, "known for illegal smiles, liver damage and paternity suits..."
While The Man Who Hated Emily Brontë is largely predictable, the ending is absolutely bizarre. Absurdist in execution, I still haven't decided if the ending was contrived way to finish off a manuscript in search of a conclusion or if Ray Smith was intentionally guiding us towards the endpoint. Slightly shocked by its ridiculousness, I had a bit of a laugh that was somewhere between a chuckle and a scoff. I'm not going to further dwell on the ending, though, or I'll have to give it away.
Ray Smith clearly has wit and skill, and I'd like to see what he does in less traveled narrative territory where his ability for sharp dialogue and peculiar characters can properly thrive.
published by porcupine's quill