Jack Hodgins Denis Salter

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Denis Salter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Invention of the World is informed with the messianic spirit of the Irishman Donal Keneally, whose birth in County Cork around 1860 is predicted by Cathleen ni Houlihan. His mother, though a simple-minded peasant, is perhaps descended from the warrior-king Brian Boru; his father, we are exhorted to believe, is a "bull-god from the sky". With such auspicious parentage, Keneally is of course a boy wonder…. The hand of destiny singles him out as a Moses who must make his mythical journey to the Promised Land, and this turns out to be Vancouver Island where in 1899 with a band of bedraggled Irishmen (and women too needless to say) he founds the Revelations Colony of Truth. At the dedication ceremony, he uses his preternatural gift for mesmeric oratory …, he confirms himself as the colony's Father and Saviour. Yet as the subtitle, "The Eden Swindle", suggests, Keneally's paradisiacal vision is possibly spurious and he is not a demi-god, but a human megalomaniac with a Svengali-like aptitude for compelling theatrical illusion. Eventually the colony sees through the subterfuge and he loses his hold over it. The apocalyptic nature of his death, however, seems to vindicate his right to mythical stature.

When the novel opens we are given an overview of the present day inhabitants of the vestigial colony; the retrospective information about Keneally comes later. Each inhabitant is, like Keneally, a quest figure, though without his commanding panache. (pp. 584-85)

Most of the characters (both historical and contemporary) are obsessed with achieving self-realization through transcendent release from the past, outmoded legends and social conventions, bogus panaceas, from everything which hinders our "trying to translate the fake material world we seem to experience back into pre-Eden truth." To reflect their shared aspiration for spiritual liberation, Hodgins often describes places and events reaching skyward, and their attendant images of perfection…. In the novel's final section, [several inhabitants of the colony go] on a pilgrimage to Ireland. They make a symbolic climb to Keneally's birthplace—the circle of stones—over which they scatter his ashes. This completes the pattern of his myth and frees them from its tenacious grip…. Hodgins is implicitly suggesting that Canada should relinquish transplanted myths, and then imagine its own.

The abundance of symbolic rivers, roads, oceans, bridges, forests,...

(The entire section is 568 words.)