Hugh (John Blagdon) Hood Patricia A. Morley - Essay

Patricia A. Morley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 bloody…. Of these notions, only that of the family is peacefully neutral, for when we think of our family we take others in—not thinking of them as outsiders." The passage is atypical in its overt didacticism but contains the theme. The novel is about the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God—an ironic portrait, for the most part, of that brotherhood betrayed. (pp. 138-39)

You Can't Get There From Here is, on the surface, a grimly comic picture of the problems facing an emergent African state. But Hood has never been in Africa, and this novel is as deceptive as Leofrica itself, a land of shifting sands and perpetual mists. Leofrica, it is emphasized, is a mirage. Similarly, the novel is really about us, not Africans; about genuine cultures and bastard ones; about fellowship versus rape. (p. 139)

Patricia A. Morley, in a review of "You Can't Get There from Here" (copyright © 1973 by Patricia A. Morley; reprinted by permission of the author), in Queen's Quarterly, Vol. LXXX, No. 1, Spring, 1973, pp. 138-39.