Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Every novel about war raises serious questions about literature and literary form, as does Turvey, including the role of the narrator, whether the hero (or antihero) or the war is to be the focus, and the causes and effects of violent action. Birney has chosen answers from a particularly Canadian perspective, one deeply informed by his poetic imagination. The language of combat suffuses his narrative, ironically, especially when Turvey is facing yet another psychological test as a battle (by his discharge, he has undergone eleven O-tests, yielding a genius score). Specific references may have more meaning for Canadian readers than for others: the Dieppe raid fiasco of August, 1942, for example, in which Canadian troops figured largely, and mention of Flanders in Belgium (John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields,” was a Canadian; lapel pins of poppies—the central image of his World War I poem—are worn throughout Canada on Remembrance Day, a national holiday). The ambiguities among Canadians about the United States’ delayed entry into the war are delineated dexterously in a single argument which Turvey overhears, just as he experiences several examples of British condescension toward Canadian soldiers. Conversely, a wounded Canadian filling in a jigsaw puzzle of Buckingham Palace, a symbol of monarchy, has his work destroyed after he has denigrated a Quebecois ward mate. Quebec’s role during World War II remains an unspoken but inflammatory...

(The entire section is 401 words.)