Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: The High Road

Terry Fallis' debut novel The Best-Laid Plans was recommended to me by my sister-in-law and, as I trust her judgment, I picked it up, which was a wise move not just because it was excellent but because it helped me through the last (disappointing) federal election.  So it seemed apropos that the Canadian Book Challenge came along right when I needed to read the sequel, The High Road.

*NOTE: here be spoilers.  Because this is a sequel, it's hard to review without giving some spoilers.  Consider yourself warned and read at your own risk.  ;)

The High Road picks up right where The Best-Laid Plans leaves off, with another federal election looming and maverick MP Angus McClintock unsure if he'll run again.  Daniel is happily ensconced in his relationship with Lindsay and Muriel is the same stalwart Liberal, even if her Parkinson's is getting worse.  When Angus decides to run (and how could he not, since the book needs to, you know, happen), Daniel stays on as campaign manager, Pete1 and Pete2 come back to help out, and this time, Angus wants to win.

Living in Toronto, I feel I've been surrounded by campaigning and political attack ads for far too long, what with the federal election this past May, our municipal election last fall and the upcoming provincial election this October.  So it was interesting to see that Angus' Conservative opponent, Emerson "Flamethrower" Fox, had built his political career on running negative campaigns.  When told this, Angus made the decision to not sink to that level, and instead to focus his campaign on the issues, not the dirt.  A novel idea, indeed, and an example of when I would love to see life imitating art.  The other interesting element of the campaigning is the addition of a right-wing independent candidate, Alden Stonehouse, who chose to run as an independent after losing the Conservative nomination.  After the federal Liberals' historic defeat in May, Fallis' book seems to say the only way the Liberals can rebuild is to split the right (or, perhaps, stop splitting the left). 

But political posturing aside, this book, like its predecessor, reads as a "what-if" in Canadian politics, not just what if the Liberals won, but what if governments put the needs of the country first; what if governments were transparent; what if governments stopped playing partisan long enough to actually get the important things done?  Such novel ideas, which is perhaps why they only exist in a novel.

Of course, Angus once again wins and heads to Ottawa with a mandate to investigate the collapse of a major bridge - which leads to an investigation on Canadian infrastructure in general and the need to spend on infrastructure, which in turn will stimulate the economy.  (Art imitating life much?)  And once again Angus makes a huge impact in the government, in his community and in the lives of those around him.  Oh, and the President of the United States shows up - and he's decidedly more Bush than Obama. 

The book ends with the perfect set-up for a third installment, which would be great but perhaps a third book would be a good place to leave it.  While the writing is wonderful, the characters fun and refreshing and the story perfectly sensible (if impractical), too much more of Angus et al would be too much.

The best parts of the book come at the end of each chapter, when Angus writes to his deceased wife in his diary.  These entries provide a sweet but sad glimpse into Angus' mind and life, as he is still struggling with the loss of his wife of almost 40 years.  Much of the comedy in the book comes from Angus' unorthodox way of thinking and being, his forthrightness and his incredulity at the foibles of others.  But when reading the diary entries, a more vulnerable Angus emerges, someone who really is missing a part of himself and is trying to find his way back to a normal life without that integral part.  His wife plays an important part in the book and his connection with her is truly beautiful.  Even though the book is narrated by Daniel, it's still a story about Angus and, through the diary entries, he comes even more into the spotlight. 


John Mutford said...

I've yet to read The Best-Laid Plans, and I didn't even know The High Road was a sequel. I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Paronomaniac said...

Both are great reads with many laugh-out-loud moments - read in public at your own risk!