Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

More than anything else, Vancouver wanted to become “a famous story,” and Bowering writes that “without a story teller, George Vancouver is just another dead sailor.” While this tale narrates the life and times of Vancouver, the author makes no pretense of being factually accurate. The documentary mode traditional in explorer journals gives way to the postmodernist mode of expression called magical realism. While realism has a strong tendency toward meaning, form, and structure, magical realism is eccentric, experimental, and experiential in its focus. It is numinous and psychic rather than physical and psychological.

The practice of magical realism has for the most part been at the hands of authors living in areas of the world which are hinterlands rather than imperial centers, places such as Canada and Brazil, for example. The vision of history portrayed in such novels tends to subvert the conventional worldview held by the mother country.

On one hand, Burning Water provides the colonial version of what imperialist exploration and discovery are about. On the other hand, it offers an alternative to documentary and rationalistic worldviews. To achieve this alternative, Bowering lards his text with what one critic has called “mixed language.” Says critic Eva-Marie Kroller,“Mixed language” contributes to formulating a sense of synchronic rather than diachronic patterning; history, personal and national, is understood as...

(The entire section is 597 words.)