Five New Bracts about Giorgione

by Hugh Hood
248 pages,
ISBN: 0887531555

Flying' s Red Mite

by Hugh Hood
246 pages,
ISBN: 0889841101

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by Douglas Malcolm

Picasso once observed that he had spent most of his lifetime unlearning his formal education as a painter. If the Spanish master had ever been foolish enough to study for a doctoral degree, it's doubtful he would have found sufficient time is his 90-odd years to forget the experience. A great many writers these days have earned doctorates in literature - Hugh Hand, James Reaney, John Gardner, and David Lodge come to mind so it's not too surprising to discover traces of academe in their work. Dr. Hood, in Five New Facts about Giorgione, his recently published novella, and the reissue of his first book, Flying a Red Kite, is much preoccupied with scholarly matters like structure and design. Unfortunately, these weighty concerns often seem more important to Hood than the creation of flesh-and-blood characters.
The 11 stories in 1962's Flying a Red Kite show Hood as a literary chameleon, experimenting with abroad range of subjects and styles. Several of the stories, like "O Happy Melodist!" and "He Just Adores Herl," deal with sexual relations, while "The End of It" examines the creative process in film, and "Nobody's Going Anywhere" the indirect impact of the Holocaust on an anglophone family in Montreal. In his introduction to the collection, Hood acknowledges having modelled "Three Halves of a House" on Faulkner, and having fashioned "Recollections of the Works Department! after similar reminiscences in the New Yorker.
The stories, however, often seem constructed from some overriding abstract premise. Hood admits as much white candidly discussing the genesis of "Fallings from Us, Vanishings," which he claims was the first story in his authentic voice
***** It involves a "man whose life is wholly given up to the recovery and preservation of the past" who "meets and falls in love with a girl who lives totally and unreflic
************ be theoretically interesting, but in practice Arthur and Gloria, the characters in question, are just wispy emanations of Hood's over-all scheme.
Hugh Hood is a master of *** and occasionally the twinning of idea and fact succeeds admirably. "After the Sirens" is a harrowing vision of nuclear attack, and the ordinary pastime kite-flying is transformed, in "Flying a Red Kite," into an epiphany. Throughout the volume, however, one finds stilted academic language ("an irony of whose inner structure"), while the introduction is festooned with such revealing phrases as "dear formal pattern" and "kinds and modes." For a book not yet 30 years old, the stories are surprisingly dated. A time in which the colour of faded denim was considered "vile," as it is in "Silver Bugles," seems impossibly remote.
In Five New Facts about Giorgione the academic awkwardness of Hood's earlier prose has been smoothed out, but his professorial approach to fiction remains much the same. The novella. features a Toronto art historian, Neil Tarrant, who believes he can revolutionize history's view of the Renaissance with five new facts about the Venetian painter Giorgione. On the brink of making his discovery, public, Tarrant is faced with a choice between making a name for himself and allowing a legend to survive. The reader applauds his decision but remains unconvinced by the character Tarrant, who is last in a maze of scholarly abstraction.
Hood's talent for fine descriptive writing is as robust as ever. His portrait of Venice makes one want to hop on the next Alitalia flight. His skill even excuses a self-,serving quibble with Jan Morris over the word gondola. But Hood gives the reader few signals on how to interpret Tarrant, his friends (an investment analyst and a big time oilman), his art gallery of an apartment, and his favourite watering-hole where the story begins and ends. I would like to think a social satirist is at work, but suspect we are meant to accept Tarrant's yuppie pretensions at face value. Hood's dialogue continually rings false in Five New Facts. In 1988 would anyone under 60 - the speaker is 30 --- inquire of a friend not once but twice, "'Why so glum, chum?"'
No one can ever accuse Hugh Hood of not thinking big. Indeed, his I'm - just - as good - or - better view of world literature seems to have been bolstered rather than diminished by his academic background.
In Flying a Red Kile's introduction, for instance, he speaks companionably of Joyce and Faulkner as though he were their peer. One wishes otherwise, but this posture smacks of over-compensation for that old bugaboo, the Canadian inferiority complex. And that's without even making mention of The New Age l Le Nouveau Siecle, the wearisome, neo-Proustian cycle of novels Hood intends to drag out until the end of the millennium.

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