When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing

S. K. Page

The disappearance of Books in Canada, the once venerable, at times haywire and always interesting monthly review of Canadian writing and publishing, is lamented as part of the evaporation of the “Canadian” component of Canadian literature by Stephen Henighan in his new book of essays, When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing (Porcupine’s Quill). Henighan is an articulate critic of the so-called “world-class” school of writing, as exemplified in the works of Ondaatje, Shields, Michaels and the dinner-party culture of prizes that begin with the letter G. His book is a penetrating argument for finding new ways of writing and imagining this country and our experience in it. He proposes an unbeautiful writing (in a polemic against beauty, he asks who would call Ulysses beautiful, or Paradise Lost, Middlemarch, the Iliad, Gravity’s Rainbow) that looks away from England and America for its inspiration, a writing unafraid of tangling up narrative with history and mythology, both of that are to be found in excess in a country that has yet to find its García Márquez, its Amado, its Achebe, etc. Henighan has written an exhilarating book with lots of rough edges, and lots to made you angry. Get it and read it. Be sure to mark important passages as you read: the publisher, who has spared no expense on paper and printing, has not provided an index.

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