Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Speaking generally...

About Generally Speaking, I'd say Chris is right - overall, he has led an interesting life and comes across as pretty likeable.  But that said, his aversion to editors is (once again) his undoing.  There's a pretty good 300-page book in here about someone who lived through interesting times and had a hand in a lot of historically significant events.  The problem is, of course, that the book is 581 pages long (counting the appendices).

There are far too many chapters here about things that he was only marginally connected to, at the expense of his own story - the family anecdotes dwindle to almost nothing once he becomes a lawyer.   Chapter after chapter seems to exist because everything that crossed his sphere of influence deserved a part in the story.  Why?  Because he doesn't seem to want to let even the smallest story go by if it means he can mention the Reichmanns, Galen Weston, Conrad Black, etc, etc.  He's a tad star struck by these leading lights of Canadian business (wonder what he thinks of Conrad since his fall from grace?) - the fact they are rich means that any chance to mention them is taken.

A good example - there is the story of how he, Weston, Black and CUAW president Bob White ("as far to the left in things Canadian as Black and Weston, each a tycoon in his own right, are to the right") are all made Officers to the Order of Canada at the same time.  Seated alphabetically, Weston and White end up next to each other.  The result?  They chat amiably.

This is an anecdote?

The short shrift given to his family makes for some weird elliptical passages.  Out of the blue, we get this: "It was 1999.  Mary-O and I were visiting her mother figure, Elspeth Gormley, in England...".  Who?  We never heard of her before or after this cryptic reference.

I think what I found most disappointing was the small amount of space he devotes to his writing career.  There is next-to-nothing about the how and why of any of his novels - nothing much about why he bothers to write, what he gets out of it (except money), his reaction to critics, to readers, what inspires him, what other books he's read etc. etc.  All I got out of the chapter on his writing was the fact he fought to get Ultimatum published his way - without any of those interfering editors.  And if ever a book needed editing, it's Ultimatum...

I note that while he is proudly conservative, it isn't always with a capital C.  Mulroney is barely mentioned and he grudgingly admits to admiring Trudeau.  Sometimes he's off-putting (a throwaway reference to "so-called global warming"), but by and large it wasn't as painful as I'd feared.

 Advertisements for myself:  Not one, but two references to Ultimatum 2, the new novel he is working on.  Both references read like ad copy.


  1. Much of what Rohmer doesn't like about Trudeau has to do with the unification of the Armed Forces, which actually took place under Pearson. He'll have you believe that working with Paul Hellyer, Trudeau "reduced the Armed Forces to the lowest possible members, cost, and status in our democratic society."

    First, Hellyer never served as Minister of Defence under Trudeau. He quit the party after only a year, eventually joining the PCs. Second, while it's hard to measure "status in our democratic society," figures for "lowest possible members" and "cost" were lower under Mulroney, Chrétien and Martin. They've reached an all-time low under Harper, with whom the General stood at the recent D-Day commemoration. To be fair, Generally Speaking was written before the MP for Calgary South became PM. To be even more fair, I'll point out that Trudeau was a member of the Canadian Army Reserve, contrary to Rohmer's claim. Harper likes to dress in military gear, but has never served a day.

    On uniforms - a subject upon which Rohmer tends to obsess - we're twice told that Trudeau and Hellyer are to blame for the "common green uniform". Again, this had nothing to do with Trudeau. Blame is properly placed with veterans Hellyer and Pearson.

    Whatever happened to Chris Bart?

  2. In my notes regarding the book that I didn't post were a couple of examples of that obsession he seemed to have with Hellyer, Trudeau and the green uniform.

    There are certain things (the uniform, editors, Monty & the Falaise Gap) that he just can't let go of.

    I did wonder as the book came to a close and we made it into the 2000s what he thinks of Harper. I'll hope not much and add that if I'm wrong I don't want to know.

  3. In either Ultimatum or Exxoneration, someone gets out of a plane and is met by Canadian soldiers in their green uniforms. When I read it last January, it struck me as particularly pedestrian writing, and I didn't know why. (Although I am a complainer.) "He drank his white milk..." But it wasn't. The major-general was nursing a grudge. It wasn't lazy. It was a running snit. I guess you guys can see where I'm going with this. Next year, now that we've read Generally Speaking, we have to reread everything.

  4. You're right. We should've begun with Generally Speaking, then moved on to How to Write a Be$t $eller, followed by Ultimatum. I'm now worried that Practice and Procedure Before the Ontario Highway Transport Board will prove itself key to understanding the novels.

    (Consider the fate of the Kowal family.)

  5. We could always do this as an annual thing - just keep re-reading them in perpetuity. What else do you have to do?

    But I do wish I'd started with GS - certainly it didn't give away anything regarding the novels - it would have alerted me to watch for certain things sooner.

    At least I've now read it before I tackle the poems.

  6. I like to think we blazed a trail for others to follow. Look out for the small branches as they snap back. Keep your eyes peeled for provincial premiers and their wily aides, De Havilland Otters, Caan, Kuwait, Winston’s, autoworkers, Buffalo, Bermuda and the stately Resource Carrier, Rohmer’s Spruce Goose. Did Socrates say learning was really remembering? I forget.