ENJOYED ROSE THORNE'S usage column in the February 1995 issue of Books in Canada, but would suggest an improvement upon the phrase "each one lovelier than the last." The word "last" usually refers to the final one of a series (formal English), and "latest" would be (strictly speaking) closer to the storyteller's meaning. However, "each one lovelier than the latest" would sound ridiculous, I think. How about "each one lovelier than the one before"?
Keep up the good work! It's good to know that someone still cares about the language. I love the pseudonym!
Mrs. Elsa Paterson
Saint John, N.B.
BRIAN FAWCETT IS CARELESS Band unfair in his assessment of Brian Mulroney (Culture Cop, February). Likening Mulroney with apparent seriousness to Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko (whose name he misspells), Fawcett suggests that Mulroney deliberately betrayed Canada's interests in negotiating what Fawcett calIs the "free trade debacle" and that Stevie Cameron's book On the Take ought to be required reading because of its revelations about the Mulroney years.
Common sense dictates that a country that depends on international trade -- as Canada does -- should secure access to its principal markets. That is what the Mulroney government did in negotiating free trade and then NAFTA. Mulroney's manifest intent, like Jean Chretien's in extending NAFTA, was to make Canada more prosperous. Hardly betrayal.
As for On the Take, critics have pointed out that many of its "revelations" are nothing of the kind. The book re- examines numerous scandals that beset the Mulroney government (several of which did indeed give rise to criminal investigations) in the apparently correct belief that fresh outrage can be mined from old dirt if the individuals involved are unpopular enough.
The claims in On the Take that can truly be called revelatory are supported by scant evidence. The assertion of a slush fund worth millions strains credulity. But Fawcett admits no such reservations into his discussion. The fair- mindedness that characterizes his literary criticism is sadly absent from his political discourse.
"Culture Cop" has a nice ring to it. It would be even nicer if Brian Fawcett asked a few questions before opening fire.
Illness as Metaphor
I THOROUGHLY ENJOYED I Elisabeth Harvor's "Juries on Trial" (February), and was particularly pleased to read Harvor's defence of Donna McFarlane's novel, Division of Surgery, nominated for last year's Governor General's Award for fiction. The notion, apparently conveyed to Harvor by critics of the jury's choices, that it was inappropriate to have chosen a novel "dealing with a social issue like inflammatory bowel disease" is certainly strange. Art can be about anything. As for illness, it has served as the theme for many fine novels, stories, and poems -- either literally or metaphorically. Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain leaps to mind.
As for "clinical facts," The Magic Mountain has many of these, e.g., how time sometimes seems to pass slowly and sometimes quickly when one is taking one's temperature. This clinical fact provides the occasion for a meditation on the nature of time. Clinical facts in Division of Surgery serve similar multiple purposes. They provide the occasion for suggestion of and meditation on the nature of pain, the body, mortality, and nature/culture/technology, etc. Division of Surgery is also a dramatic story, a good read, a literary achievement, and, as Harvor notes, "a deeply felt (but weirdly buoyant) book." McFarlane approaches illness as an experience that instructs us about human existence, about, as the novel's narrator says, "the ordinariness and fragility of life," and "the real and impenetrable loneliness of individual experience," but also that which leads one "to put a higher value on humanity." That the novel's form is a little innovative surely is part of its achievement.
As for inflammatory bowel disease, it is not "a social issue"; it is an illness. The social issue, or social problem, is people's reluctance to discuss it openly (or have it be the subject for art), thus creating a stigma that creates more problems for the IBD sufferer. The hush-hush that surrounds this illness also makes it more difficult to explore causes and treatments, about which there is a great deal of controversy (especially between "mainstream" and "alternative" medicine). Much benefit has come to the understanding and treatment of illnesses like breast cancer, lung cancer, and AIDS by making them subjects for public debate and artistic representation, and by making governments, health-care establishments, and corporations accountable for their actions or inaction.
0N THE SAME DAY I RECEIVED the tear sheet for a review of a book published by my company, I read Michael Coren's "Who Stole Reviewing?" ( February). I was delighted that my author got a review, albeit a rather negative one (though glowing compared to some in the same article!) because I find it almost impossible to get a review outside of the Maritimes and even there it's not easy. I send review copies everywhere within reason, and silence ensues. Why, then, does Coren think an American author should have automatic access to a review? After all, the publication is called Books in Canada.
But his intriguing title, which had the potential to address my concerns, led me to read on. And I found a wider issue.
I am preparing to publish a book by abused women in Nova Scotia. I just returned from a week's visit to Cape Breton Island and other eastern Nova Scotian points where I interviewed many women from abusive relationships and talked to several counsellors and Transition House workers. Over the year I have accumulated a lot of material by women and I know I have just scratched the surface. "The woes of womankind" could not be exaggerated -- maybe if Coren can imagine a blow to the eye, a kick in the fibs, a punch to a belly he can forget about "neurotic, self-indulgent intellectuals" and concentrate on the documented abuse of women in Canada.
I understand that half the university student body is now female. I don't see that half the federal and provincial legislatures are; or half the judicial system; or half the CEOs, or half the athletes. But women probably do make up half of those on minimum wage, half those in part-time jobs, and half on welfare. Whatever the statistics are, they are pretty impressive.
I don't know whether 150,000 women die of anorexia, but I don't see any reason for accepting a figure of less than 100 either. Domestic violence doesn't increase on football Sundays? Maybe not, but checking women's shelters is proof? A huge amount of domestic violence goes officially unreported, unrecorded -- and anyway, why should I believe that assertion rather than the one Coren condemns'?
What Canada needs is more magazines like Books in Canada, so that lots of books can be reviewed. I don't think my publications are "censored" because I seldom get reviews. I assume we just don't have the facilities to do all the reviewing that could and should be done.
President, Roseway Publisbing
IN MY RECENT OPINION PIECE
in Books in Canada (February) I used the qualifying words "at least for me" when writing about Donna McFarlane's Division of Surgery to convey that I was speaking only for myself. I certainly did not mean to suggest that I was the only juror who supported that particular book, because although the lead-in that went with the piece breathlessly stated "here comes one juror not afraid to confess all," confessing "all" in relation to jury deliberations was never my aim and I would have been extremely unethical if I had chosen to do that. It was also not my aim to make it harder for the Canada Council (which, after all, gives out many more prizes than either the Trillium or the Giller) to persuade writers to serve on future GG juries. In writing about the GG jury experience in a deliberately general way, I merely hoped to use it as a springboard to talk about fame and the writer (and despair and the writer) and above all to question our culture's naive fixation on "best" anything and, in this particular case, on best book.