Thursday, 1 May 2014

Re. Wilson's Swamp Angel (and the joys of leisure reading)

I teach English with a small university-college in northern Manitoba.  Although I do love my work, I will admit that it leaves me with little time for leisure reading.  Throughout the fall and winter months, most of the reading I do is re-reading novels, poems, short-fiction, articles, etc., in preparation for classes.  There's not a lot of time for much more than that.  So when spring and summer roll around, they arrive offering a luxury--the luxury of extra time for leisure reading. 

Now that teaching is once again behind me, what did I wind up picking up recently? Ethel Wilson's Swamp Angel.  

Perhaps because I always thought of the novel as a Can. Lit. duty-read, I dutifully avoided Swamp Angel for years.  But the time had finally come to end avoidance and open up the novel to see what I might find in its pages.   

Although Ethel Wilson's book had many fine moment, it must be said that it simply didn't satisfy me.    

The novel's title is taken from the name of the Swamp Angel revolver, a gun highly prized by one of the novel's characters, Nell Severance, who used to juggle the gun in a circus act.  She later gives the Angel to Maggie Lloyd, the novel's main character, who has recently left her husband in order to start a new life as a cook at a down-on-its-luck resort in the British Columbia interior. Even though there is conflict between Maggie and Vera, the resort owner's wife, who is fiercely and angrily jealous of Maggie, the gun never comes into play.  

Spoiler Alert: at the novel's end Maggie mildly drops the Swamp Angel into the lake and watches it submerge below the surface.  And so for most of the novel, the Angel feels like a Chekhovian gun--one that's bound to get used.  And yet it never goes off, is never fired.  

Of course, I don't doubt that there are nuance and subtleties to Wilson's use of the gun in the novel that I'm not taking into account.  All  I'm taking into account is the overall impression that the novel left.  And that impression is, to use an old Labradorian word, that it's a bit "dunchy," meaning under-baked.

And this is one of the pleasures of leisure reading.  Overall impressions are good enough.  I don't need to interpret the book, analyze it, theorize about it, prepare a lecture on it, devise discussion questions about it, write a conference paper on it---nothing of the sort.  All that's required is to read and decide whether or not I like what I'm reading.  To see whether or not the story, the play, the poem, the novel - to borrow a bit from Dylan Thomas - makes my toenails twinkle. 

No comments:

Post a Comment