Robert Fulford

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

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.

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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 federal-provincial relations. Hood's novel will stir a warmth of gratitude in the heart of every civil servant who has laboured, long and hard, to produce the precise comma and the perfect paragraph-number to hold our dear land together.

Marvelously, it isn't boring (except for a few pages at the beginning). Hood makes Roger a complex, believable character, and even if his book won't appeal to any but the obsessively Canadian he has still produced a solid achievement. The advance over his rather ponderous White Figure, White Ground (1964) and his superficial The Camera Always Lies (1967) is clear. Hood's best qualities emerge stronger than before, particularly his ability to grasp and convey a group sense of affectionate communality. His protagonist, Jake …, watches and observes nicely the difficult and yet loving relationships of the people who shape modern Quebec. Moreover, Roger's experience in Ottawa—paralleling, in some ways, the experiences of Favreau and Lamontagne during the Pearson years—is believable in its disillusionment. And the cityscape of Montreal has perhaps never been conveyed in a novel with such confident authenticity. (p. 49)

Robert Fulford, "Captain Canada" (copyright © 1970 by Saturday Night; reprinted by permission of the author), in Saturday Night, Vol. 85, No. 11, November, 1970, pp. 47, 49.

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