Hugh Garner

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George Woodcock

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

The title—One Damn Thing after Another—says a great deal about the shape of the book, for, compared with Garner's novels and stories, it is unexpectedly loose and rambling. At first the apparent formlessness disconcerts one, but in one way it is a very natural way to write a book of memoirs, the thoughts and recollections put down as they come into the mind. It is, indeed, so much like a man talking that, as one reads, Garner's gravelly voice seems to sound in the ear and his compact cocky figure to take shape before the mind's eye.

One of the good things about this approach, from the view-point of any writer who will follow with a more formal biography of Garner, is the fact that he gives abundant detail on his publication record, even down to what happened to individual short stories. Another is that when he has written a good magazine piece about an episode in his life, Garner resurrects it instead of rewriting the incident from a later and vaguer perspective. (pp. 95-6)

An interesting aspect of Garner's present attitude is his retreat from the political engagement which led him to Spain; it is not the same thing as a repudiation of his past. (p. 96)

So here is Garner, warts and all, with no attempt to hide the bouts of drinking that alternate with long periods of severe and sober work …, with no attempt either to mitigate his vanity or to beautify his occasional fits of loud aggressiveness. All this goes with the refusal to give One Damn Thing after Another a form that would falsify the experiences. A professional writer's life, after all, is "one damn thing after another", since only those with independent means or university jobs can afford to turn down the hack work which the ordinary professional has to accept. The great thing in that life is never to let down your prose, and always to learn what you can in the way of facts and techniques which can be retained for better uses; these rules Garner has at most times followed, and so his periods of hack writing have hurt him no more than they hurt Defoe or Dickens. He emerges from One Damn Thing after Another as a writer dedicated and obsessed—and whenever I am asked to state in a word the secret of literary success, that word is "obsession". (pp. 96-7)

George Woodcock, in Canadian Literature, Winter, 1974.

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