Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eastern Passage


I've read almost all of Farley Mowat's books...and he is always atop my list of favourite authors (he varies from first to third). I have a strange connection to his books, his life, even his view of the world. Like him I started life in Ontario then moved onto Saskatchewan and eventually returned. We have that Quinte Bay (Trenton & Belleville) connection. We have a similar interest in nature...and now Eastern passage has cemented this connection even further. I will elaborate: My dream job - writer. What I've been reading lately (and fantasizing about) - a magazine about living off the land, living off the grid, 'homesteading'. Strangely enough, this book starts out with those two things. It's FM's account of the beginning of his writing career, and as it turns out his homesteading experience...at the same time!

This book is just full of surprises. After his return from WWII, Farley meets up with France and gets married. This is a surprise to me since I've never heard of this lady. I didn't even know he was married? Anyway, FM can't stand the city (Toronto at the time) and manages to buy 10 acres from a friend for $50 or $500, don't quote me but it was cheap. The land in way out in the country, lot 4b on cty ln 10 off RR#30 just past the old burned out yurt...you get the idea? There is barely a road, there is no house, there is no electricity, not even cell phone coverage. Farley takes the spring and summer to put up what sounds like a solid log house. Made with his own hands, a shovel, and a jeep. The next year he takes on the land, which sounds like it was pretty worn out from previous logging and farming. He starts a giant garden, gets a few chickens, and starts reforesting the land. During these first couple of years he writes his first book - The People of the Deer - and sells a few magazine articles. His breakout success with this book brings more confidence and more ideas, pretty soon he has a few books on the go. One of these book ideas, eventually leading to And No Birds Sang, takes him and his wife on a European Vacation. Not the fun Griswold type (we're pigs), but, to reconnect with the battlegrounds and experiences he had during his war years. Then, to my surprise he starts a family?! Another shocker! I never knew he had kids? But, a little boy is born a year or so after the Europe trip. Then Farley promptly takes a voyage on a boat down the St.Lawrence river out to Nova Scotia, where the story suddenly ends. There is some foreshadowing that implies the trip was a bad idea and it would probably ruined his fragile marriage and new family life.

The book was laid out in an interesting way. Farley tells his writing story mostly through letters he had with his editor and his agent. Now, I know writers can be a bit strange and unconventional, but, Farley has to take the cake on this one. In most of his letters to his editor he writes very unprofessionally. He dismisses most of the changes his editor suggest (even if predicted to sell more books), which is normal I suppose. But, then mentions how he could write more if he wasn't always spending his time on that garden. How if he was just sent an advance, even $500, he wouldn't worry about him and his wife starving this winter. Or, he pushes that he should come meet with the editor, if of course they would kindly pay for travel food hotel. Then there are letters that he chats about the weather or some other topic that has nothing to do with writing. He rambles, he swears, he rants, he criticizes the government...in letters to his editor.

There seemed, to me at least, to be a theme running through the book - independence. Mowat shares stories about his homesteading, stressing how his eventual goal was to be self-sufficient. Then there is the a big section about a trip he takes to visit some old army friends who live in the northern part of Hastings county. These people were not part of mainstream society. They were living off the land; fishing and hunting. Farely's stories brought out the best in these rough outliers lives and I felt his tone bordered envy. Then there was his boat trip. What can be more blatantly isolating than being secluded on a boat in the middle of a large body of water...that's one way to get away, especially if there is a strong current pushing you. It was pretty clear by the end of the book that Farley was trying to get away from something at this part of his life. What? I'm not sure, but, that's what good writers do, leave you hanging...and/or encourage you to buy the next book! Or, leave you thinking? Was he running from his war memories? his wife? responsibility? growing up?


As a post script/side note: I find it really weird when you are reading and obscure things pop up in multiple books. For eg. in Eastern Passage Farley rants about Jerusalem artichokes. Kind of an obscure thing to mention. Strangely enough, Jaime Oliver praises these things multiple times in The Return of the Naked chef. Weird, weird, weird. I have never heard of this 'vegetable' in my life, now all of the sudden they are in every other book I read!?

What even makes this even funnier is the passionate contrasting views on these artichokes. Mowat complains about how they are like weeds, they never die and just keep reproducing. He rages that they are almost inedible, look like a 'turd' and are probably just as nutritious!

Oliver, on the other hand, promotes these things as nutritious, delicious, elegant looking food that is underused.

Now, isn't that strange? Almost a Monty python moment - now for something completely different.

No comments:

Post a Comment