Hood, Hugh (John Blagdon)
Hugh (John Blagdon) Hood 1928–
Canadian novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and biographer.
Hood is an intellectual writer whose prose is deceptively simple. Although he has described himself as a "Catholic novelist," his views are often unorthodox and are rooted as much in philosophy as religion. The tone of his fiction shifts between the serious and the satirical, creating a fictive atmosphere at once realistic and fantastical, or as Hood has defined it, "superrealistic." Critics praise Hood's concise diction and the skillful craftsmanship which is particularly evident in his short stories. Also notable in his short fiction is his ability to convey large moral and philosophical concepts through seemingly trivial events. Flying a Red Kite (1962) and Dark Glasses (1976) contain examples of his most masterful writing.
Hood's most ambitious project is a twelve-volume novel entitled The New Age, which is designed to convey a comprehensive fictional representation of the Canadian experience. Hood introduces narrator Matthew Goderich in The Swing in the Garden (1975), the first volume of The New Age, and experiments in the series with the concepts of time, space, history, art, and identity. Four volumes have been published thus far; Hood has projected that the series will be completed in the year 2000.
(See also CLC, Vol. 15; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)
[It's] evident from the stories in [Hood's] first book, Flying A Red Kite, that he has knocked about a good deal in the world outside the universities…. One of them, "After the Sirens", not the best of the stories but certainly a rigorously imagined and professionally executed vision of nuclear war, made it in the big league of Esquire. It is a tribute to the genuineness of Hood's talent that his work appealed just as much to ordinary educated people as to fellow academics and to more self-consciously literary readers…. The patient accumulation of sensuous detail induces recognition of place as well as of people. Toronto is here ("Recollections of the Works Department"), Montreal is here ("Flying a Red Kite"), and in the magnificent "Three Halves of a House", set on the Canadian shore of the St. Lawrence near Gananoque, there's a continental feeling, a sense of the whole of Canada. It is this aspect of the stories that patriotic reviewers are apt to seize on, rightly feeling that our own lives are that much more real for being brought into a context of art and imagination, that our country is the more unquestionably present for having been seen by a real writer and set down forever in print. But Hood isn't writing advertising copy for the Canadian Way. His stories are about life and death and eternity…. (p. 72)[Hood] writes as confidently in the third person as in the first and with as much inwardness about women as about...
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This man is French Canadian, unmarried, middle-aged, rich, attractive, intellectual. He's a professor at the University of Montreal, and he drives fast, expensive cars. He's passionately federalist and he scorns both separatists and nationalists. Furthermore, he's just decided to go to Ottawa to save Canada.
A profile, of course, of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Right? Wrong. The man in question is Roger Talbot, the hero—or at least one of the two heroes—of Hugh Hood's new novel, A Game of Touch. (p. 47)
[Few] readers will fail to notice the resemblance immediately. Indeed, A Game of Touch looks like the first Trudeau novel, the first sign that Trudeau may have begun to possess Canada's literary imagination as he has possessed its political imagination.
This implies a certain audacity on Hood's part, but that's nothing beside the bravado he displays by putting at the core of his book the very stuff of Canadian politics itself: federal-provincial relations. Hood's Roger is no cool above-the-battle hero, no charismatic saint of the television age: he's an untiring part-time bureaucrat whose most passionate desire is to figure out how to make Canada run more or less to everyone's satisfaction. (pp. 47, 49)
The quintessential Canadian hero comes to life at last, fighting his way to mythic stature not through Greek islands or western plains but through the thickets of...
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Around the Mountain is subtitled, 'Scenes from Montreal Life'. A collection of essays, some of them apparently non-fiction fiction, about the varied aspects of life in Montreal that moves from scrub hockey leagues, to suburban development, to the old quarters of the city. Hood loves the city. He walks it, he bicycles it, he drives it. Some parts of the city foster life, some parts do not. Hood accepts both. Progress means scummed rivers, vanishing farms and sculpture on the overpass pylons of uncompleted freeways. Hood sometimes likes what replaces the farms and streams, sometimes he does not. The waterfront is filthy but active. He goes there frequently to get the feel of it; just as he goes to the top of the mountain. Both places are the city, not any city, the city. Perhaps if he were designing the city he would do it differently, but he's not, so he'll take it as it is. His eye is honest. He does not use his subjects as ways into himself, although the self of the observer is plainly there. The essays are not excuses for condemnation or commendation. Most of them are in one way or another mood pieces; definitive of elusive moments within the ordinary. Hood is a topographist of a particular kind. His attachment is to what moves between what he sees and his quizzical undetached self. The city and its inhabitants are alien to each other, but for Hood there is some connection between all, the things and people he describes that does not...
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That Hugh Hood is a serious and accomplished Canadian artist of considerable significance is a fact that ought to be more widely known than it is…. [Some] of the best fiction in Canada is now being written in the short story form, and Hood is one of the masters of it. Furthermore, he is probably its most ambitious practitioner, demanding more of the form than almost any other writer, and he is one of the few who is concerned with the totality of a collection—seeing the collection, I think, as an entity which has its effect in sum and not in bits and pieces.
It seems to me, in fact, that this feeling for coherence is one of the most admirable aspects of Hood's work. All his work is of a piece, although it shifts focus, takes new directions, explores. It is not obviously avant-garde …, but it is always exploratory, always pushing on, expanding on its previous discoveries, looking more closely here and there, developing, broadening, and always deepening. Indeed, I think there is no predicting the eventual dimensions of his work—and that. I suppose, is part of the definition of an artist.
To give some idea how all this has developed, I suppose I am justified in briefly reviewing Hood's career. One ought begin with his first novel, White Figure, White Ground (1964), a novel of Canadian identity, history, and culture, and one which says a great deal about art. It is also a novel which deals with...
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[The Fruit Man, the Meat Man & the Manager] shows that [Hood] knows perfectly well where he is and what he is doing. The stories are carefully varied, like a bon voyage fruit basket. "Who's Paying for This Call?" is a stream of consciousness, lower case word portrait of the artist agonizing over his use/misuse of his craft and his public. "Cura Pastoralis", about a young priest who violates his vows, "One Owner, Low Mileage", about a widow left with a large new automobile she doesn't know how to drive, and "The Singapore Hotel", about a bank manager's encounters with the home office's whizz kid, are three samples of a kind of workmanlike, slice-of-life story that J. F. Powers used to be good at. They are the kind of stories that set literature classes on the hunt for subtle epiphanies.
"Dog Explosion" is an actual shaggy dog story. "Harley Talking" is a documentary set in Moishe's Steak House that would make, I think, a very effective television play or short movie. As a short story, it seems too full of implications that are dropped too evidently. "Places I've Never Been" is a Joycean-Borges style story made up of cinematic (televisionistic?) elements juxtaposed to make up a nightmarish time-collapsing collage of contemporary images: a canoe trip into almost spoiled nature, a grotesque funland, a contemplated rape, an urban riot. Why?
"A Solitary Ewe" is a case in point. It is a carefully wrought piece,...
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The Times Literary Supplement
[You Can't Get There From Here] is the story of Leofrica, an "emergent" African nation, living at or below subsistence level. There are two tribes, Ugetis and Pineals (isn't the pineal a gland?), the UN, the USSR, the USA, a giant corporation called INTERFOODS, agents, double agents, tribal myths, trained scuba divers, two currencies (nuts and UN Scrip). The local girls use an oil pipeline for ritual masturbation, believing it to be a snake god. There is intrigue, and counter-intrigue. The descriptive prose and the dialogue are both good, and include humour of an ironical kind—for this is basically a nightmare, where a tribal civil war is artificially provoked by powerful outside interests (Albania/China). The storyline is strong, though concerned mainly with politics and finance and sometimes a bit confusing: there are almost too many agents. But the novel is both exciting and intelligent … and contains very little of the spy-story cliché. It is written with none of the snideness with which some novelists write about Africans, and seems very much the work of somebody who knows and understands Africa. Furthermore, as a kind of parable, it has a lot of relevance to the situation there today.
"Nightmare Parable," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3708, March 30, 1973, p. 340....
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Patricia A. Morley
You Can't Get There From Here … [focuses on] the freedom of societies, and the problematic survival of indigenous cultures assaulted by Western technology and by the cultural package of ideas and attitudes which necessarily accompanies this technology.
You Can't Get There From Here is a very sophisticated novel. It should firmly establish Hood's place in the top rank of Canadian writers, confirming the promise in earlier novels and in short story collections such as Flying a Red Kite (1962) and The Fruit Man, the Meat Man and the Manager (1971). Hood's latest novel is simultaneously black comedy and a profound philosophical comment on human nature and societies; at once slapstick, tragic farce, and a sparkling parody of academic rhetoric and the classic disciplines of politics, economics and anthropology—a tonic, in short, for all academics. It is both a story of international intrigue and a parody of spy thrillers. All in two hundred pages.
As the plot thickens and his fortunes steadily decline, Antony Jedeb, Prime Minister of the newly created African state of Leofrica, addresses those present at a meal described as highly symbolic: "Nation, faction, culture, tribe, people, race, clan, family, names for different-sized groups…. My people, my tribe, my class, my clan, my caste, are not yours and cannot be yours. It is the exclusiveness of these notions that makes them so...
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The Swing in the Garden is the first of a projected series of twelve novels, a roman fleuve in the manner of Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Proustian references recur, sometimes rather self-consciously. In the Goderich family, Sunday drives in the country alternate with trips to the docks. Matt is reminded of Proust's narrator and of his weekend choice of excursions from Combray along the Guermantes' path, or along the way to Swann's house. Proust's narrator discovered much later in life that the two ways united to form a single meaning…. (p. 99)
The handling of time is deceptively simple. The mind of the adult narrator, a sophisticated art-historian, is set alongside the experiences of himself as a child, rather like parallel tracks. Didactic passages for example, the nature of time and change, are validated by the narrator's scholarly interests or those of his father, a professional philosopher. As a child, Matt is vaguely aware of the elasticity of chronological time in conjunction with emotional experience…. (pp. 99-100)
Hood's models, besides Proust, are novelists such as George Eliot and Balzac. He obviously aspires to catch the entire social fabric in his net. His feeling for social nuance, for the ambiance of class feeling "in the by no means democratic society of English-speaking Canada in the twenties and thirties," is excellent. Matt, delivering magazines, knows the...
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J. R. (Tim) Struthers
In his imagination Hugh Hood has outlined a twelve-book epic on Canadian life entitled The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, which he intends to complete by the year 2000. The first part in this extraordinary project is The Swing in the Garden, a fictional story of an art historian's boyhood in and near Toronto during the thirties. The Swing in the Garden is a novel, an extended "digressive" essay, an autobiography, a topographical map, a snapshot album or documentary film, a history book, a philosophical work, a piece of socialist rhetoric, a commentary on national economic policy, and a dream-vision allegory. The Swing in the Garden is all of these things; but in essence it is the beginning of an elaborate social mythology, a detailed examination of part of the Canadian style.
Hood focuses on a great social revolution in the mid-thirties [which involved a radical lengthening of the expected duration of one's formal schooling and] which eventually remade the then predominantly rural and small-town character of Canadian life. (p. 518)
What raises the personal story of Matt Goderich to the level of a national myth or epic is the fictional shaping of Hood's own autobiographical materials, seen, for example, in the dating of Matt's birth in 1930 (Hood was born in 1928) and his father's, Andrew Goderich's, birth in 1900. Hood's partial modelling of the career of Andrew Goderich on that of professor...
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[Dark Glasses contains] three or four of the best examples in all of literature of how the short story works. The weaker of the twelve stories could be dismissed on the assumption that they were included because of Hood's predilection for arranging his "pieces according to complex numerologies" that provide "a scaffolding for the imagination."… (p. 105)
Hood's strength lies in his ability to shape what he calls the "physical form" of material as diffuse as metaphysical speculation. Thus in terms of both manner and matter Hood is like the painter Alex Colville. Neither artist can rid himself "of those four or five bloody sets of metaphysical states" that Mathew Goderich (the persona for Hood's projected twelve volume prose epic) complained about: "Permanence and change; sameness and difference; being and becoming; form and matter."… Both Hood and Colville react to the same dilemma by concentrating on the spirit of the shapes of things: "If you pay close enough attention to things, stare at them, concentrate on them as hard as you can, not just with your intelligence, but with your feelings and instincts, you begin to apprehend the forms in them."… Hood is less impressive in his fiction than in his journalism because he frequently exploits artifice to impose an extrinsic pattern on his fiction…. By emphasizing [a] kind of extrinsic symbolism Hood reinforces his "scaffolding of the imagination" at the expense of obscuring...
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The opening paragraph of [A New Athens] reflects what has come to be a Hood trademark: the transformation of circumstantial detail and self into a kind of mystical entity which, for all its ontological complexities, represents finally a re-affirmation of Wordsworthian man. Hood takes us quickly into speculations about "original glory," "wild multiplicity of forms in this world," "a curious infinity," and other components of transcendentalism, all through the consciousness—and prescience—of the articulate narrator/protagonist, Matthew Goderich.
The novel, the second of a projected twelve-volume chronicle about mid-century Canada, takes up Matthew's story a generation or so after the events of the first in the series, The Swing in the Garden. It is to me a more successful novel than the earlier one, which suffered, I thought, from the imposition of too much overt moralizing; the pre-adolescent Matthew was not given sufficient opportunity to be himself, as it were. A New Athens succeeds, in my view, in resolving the components of reality and imagination—though not without effort on the part of the reader. Hood wins us over more by rational persuasion than by catering to our emotions, but our patience is rewarded by a new respect we gain for his disciplined aesthetic. (p. 138)
In A New Athens, Hood reflects his abiding obsession with naming places, people, and things. I suspect the places...
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LOUIS K. MacKENDRICK
Most of the 16 stories here (drawn from Hugh Hood's previous collections) don't appear in general anthologies. Since this seems to be the purpose of Selected Stories, one may regret the absence of "Three Halves of a House", "The Village Inside" or "Getting to Williamstown". But we are given "Looking Down From Above", Hood's lovely evocation of Montreal's mountain and reflection on self-fulfilment despite the accidents of the flesh.
Hood's prose is finely controlled in several tempi, as for example in his chronicle stories where fiction and documentary meet. He has an exacting sense of location, of specific and loved places. Often he emphasizes wonder and discovery in his writing as if he were the heart-struck cicerone who can nonetheless radiate a slight but unclinical coolness. The internal connections and thematic unities of his tales are subtle because the stories are so deceptively relaxed.
This book has stories "about" the immediate present balanced against the accumulation of personal history, impermanence, vulnerability, and the oddly similar arrangements between life and art. These are stories whose revelations are paced precisely and persuasively not to an "epiphany" but to an understated point of awareness, to a compromise with mortality.
Louis K. MacKendrick, in a review of "Selected Stories," in Quill and Quire (reprinted by permission of Quill and...
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Hugh Hood's style, including diction, characterization, symbolism, and tone, is very difficult to deal with in a general way. He is a very eclectic stylist and he does not seem to pay much attention to whether or not various techniques are actually suited to each other or mesh together—especially in the first two novels of The New Age. Since, for one thing, he is interested in ways of knowing various dimensions of reality, he incorporates the vocabularies and styles of different approaches to reality…. [The] reader is apt to run into lists of names of places and things which are given for their own sake. Along with this "Eaton's catalogue" style one also finds a journalistic recording of historical events as well as a listing of scientific data and theories, rules of games, features of old automobiles, and opinions on various and sundry local and global problems. On the one hand the diction can be very concrete. On the other hand it can suddenly become very abstract.
Mixed in with the journalistic prose is the language of metaphysics, when a narrator is in a philosophical frame of mind, and along with everything else one finds the language of "intuitive reason"—poetic imagery, descriptions of almost mystical awareness, symbolism, word play in names of characters, obscure allusions, and connections to past works of art, the Bible, and Greek mythology. This last style comes closer to more conventional techniques in...
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W. J. Keith
If sensitivity is the hallmark of the artist, one wonders how he can be anything but an outsider in a crassly insensitive age.
In this new volume of interrelated short stories [None Genuine Without This Signature], Hood offers a clue in the first narrative, "God Has Manifested Himself Unto Us As Canadian Tire" (a bold title—what story could live up to it?—but this one does). Here we are confronted by A. O. and Dreamy, who seem at first sight bitterly satiric creations crudely symbolizing a consumer society run riot. Hood saturates his prose with the rhythms and slogans of advertising. The couple are surrounded by the latest buys …; their culture consists of reading about the next sale …; Dreamy is physically enveloped by bargains…. But by the end of the story they are revealed as a pathetically unfulfilled pair, babes in a commercialized artificial-bonsai wood, only half convinced that they must be happy since they have everything, aware of a lack but unable to name it. For careful readers, however, the pathos of a self-imposed barrenness is intimated as early as the first paragraph: "Baby Car Seat by Travl-Gard conforming to all government safety needs. We'll never need one of those." Our ultimate response is complex. Contempt is no longer possible, but we are not allowed to relinquish the responsibility of judgment. An achieved insight beyond the reach of direct statement: such is the capacity of Hood's art....
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Most readers have passed judgement on Hugh Hood's great work-in-progress, The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, on the basis of the first three novels, The Swing in the Garden, A New Athens, and Reservoir Ravine. A number are hooked on the series, acclaiming it one of the most audacious, skilful, and satisfying literary enterprises undertaken in this country. But a larger body of readers—those who make the Atwoods, Richlers, Laurences, et al., national best sellers—have apparently been turned off by Hood's disregard for some of the conventions of narration, plotting, and character development, as well as by the extreme intellectualism of both Hood and his central characters. Black and White Keys, the fourth novel in the series, will utterly delight the addicted and may be the best entrée into the series for the non-believer. It is certainly the most powerful and most accessible volume so far.
There is a simple plot and structure. In 1941 Andrew Goderich, former professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, is chosen to attempt to rescue Georg Mandel, the heir to Kant and Hegel as the voice of philosophic idealism, from Dachau. While Andrew is confronting absolute evil in Germany, his teenage son, Matthew, enjoys the near-fantastic innocence of a Toronto boyhood. He tinkers with the piano keyboard trying to become a musician, experiences the images of war only through the ritual of the movies, and...
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