Patricia Morley

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813

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)

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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 distance that separates him from classmate Bea Skaithe who lives on Highland Avenue. The curving path, the shrubbery, the heavy door with brass knocker, induce inferiority feelings of a specific flavour. Class barriers are flexible but nevertheless real…. (p. 100)

Hood's pace is leisurely…. The five parts of Swing take Matt Goderich from infancy to the age of nine, while Canada moves through the Depression to the brink of World War Two. His panorama takes in Spain, Maritain, Woodsworth, Sir Joseph Flavelle, Mackenzie King, and the academic socialists who could not believe that Stalin would ever co-operate with Adolph Hitler. The Goderich family move from relative affluence to poverty, when the father's radical principles drive him out of his university job, and bad weather sabotages his summer venture into the restaurant business. At the end of the novel, Canada is moving into the tragedy of war and Matt, into intimations of adolescence.

There are some memorable comic scenes. One concerns Saturday matinées at the Beverly, a neighbourhood theatre featuring a double bill for ten cents. Pandemonium is an added attraction…. Another scene describes a policeman on a bicycle chasing an ancient Ford across Toronto Island, where cars were forbidden. (pp. 100-01)

Despite Hood's flair for slapstick, the comic tone is frequently subtle. A remark of Matt's father, "What we have is a six room house," may not sound hilarious to the average reader but it is one of Andrew Goderich's small turns of phrase which his family love to parody, "with almost antiphonal repetition." Matt describes his father's kind of humour as "almost impossible to explain or defend before people with no ear for it." The phrase describes much of Hood's own wry sense of fun.

Hood's first four novels demonstrate a remarkable variety in technique. White Figure, White Ground is relatively traditional in form. Its protagonist is a painter in search of his roots. The narrative functions as metaphor…. The Camera Always Lies is a romance, a witty parody of Hollywood films, and a rollicking satire of American moeurs. Many reviewers seemed to miss the parody and panned it severely. In A Game of Touch, Hood uses the game as "a microcosm of middle-class eastern Canada" (George Woodcock's phrase). The novel is both a modern example of the picaresque form, where the interest centres in the structure of society, and an informal kunstler-roman with political cartoonist Jake Price as the artist-to-be-educated. You Can't Get There From Here is an anti-utopia, a brilliant parody of human folly and unrealistic social aspirations, set in the mythical state of Leofrica.

With nine books to his credit …, Hood seems to be moving into a comfortable high gear and settling down for the long haul. First of twelve: the idea might intimidate some writers. The Swing in the Garden is marked by the social concerns which have always been prominent in Hood's fiction, and the conscious regard for craftsmanship or métier, his watchword. Matt Goderich observes that there is a kind of mind among some writers of fiction which feeds, almost compulsively, upon facts; and another which lies "not in the facts themselves but in the exactions of the a priori form into which they had to be made to fit…. This alliance of doubled realities may, often does, issue in art of extraordinary richness." Where do we place Hood's work? I opt for the double reality. Facts transformed. (pp. 101-02)

Patricia Morley, "Where the Myth Touches Us" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Canadian Literature, No. 67, Winter, 1976, pp. 99-102.

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Patricia A. Morley


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