Jack Hodgins George Woodcock

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George Woodcock

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I read The Invention of the World with part of my mind wandering through the world that had seemed so strange to me when I entered it half a life ago—the world of the loggers and their whores and the stump farmers and the Anglo-Irish eccentrics and millenarian communities, and I was delighted with the felicity of observation that had enabled Hodgins to catch so well the look and mood of the wild sea-forest-and-mountain landscape, and the speech and mannerism of its inhabitants. These aspects satisfied my nostalgia and at the same time pleased me with the thought that such a strange and undoubtedly transient world had not gone uncelebrated.

At the same time, I developed reservations about the fictional structure of the book. In the central strand of the plot—the career of Maggie Kyle from logger's moll to proprietor of a trailer park on the site of the Revelations Colony and eventually, after a desperate search for impossible salvations, to marriage with her hollow man of a cousin, Wade Powers, I found nothing to criticize; I have known such a loud, leggy blonde from northern Vancouver Island whose career and character were not much different from Maggie's. Around this main plot the minor fates of island oddities like Madmother Thomas, Julius Champney, Danny Holland and Becker (who in his curiosity over human motives becomes the narrator of much of the book) weave their appropriate patterns, and even the material side of the remembered history of the Revelations Colony—a group of bog Irish led away from home by a conjuring messiah named Keneally—is part of the authentic island experience.

It is when Hodgins turns Keneally into a semi-supernatural being of malign and magical powers that the novel weakens. For what he is doing is to juxtapose true myth with fabricated myth. The strange life of the Vancouver Island communities is one of those natural gifts to the novelist—truth grown so much stranger than fiction that in memory it is already myth, even before it is set down on paper. To add further convolutions is to transfer it into the world of fictional invention, and to lose it as mythic truth. The founders of the West Coast religious communities were strange and sinister enough beings in their own human right. There was no need to make them demonic. (pp. 90-1)

George Woodcock, "Novels from Near & Far: 'The Invention of the World'" (reprinted by permission of the author), in Canadian Literature, No. 73, Summer, 1977, pp. 90-1.