Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Review of The Goldfish Dancer in the Women's Post

A good review of Patricia Robertson's The Goldfish Dancer in the Women's Post. His only small quibble was the inclusion of the novella 'Girl With Cello', oddly enough, my favourite piece in the collection. My only quibble was he refers to Patricia as being Saskatchewan-based. This is not the first time this season Patricia has been confused with that other Robertson. One of them will have to change their name. (There's precedent for this: at the turn of the last century, there was a very popular novelist in Britian by the name of Winston Churchill, and a young up and coming politician by the same name. They decided that there was too much confusion, and that one of them would have to begin to use their middle name to simplify matters. If I remember correctly, they flipped a coin. We could do a similar thing here."

In any case, the review...

Wearing fine gold scales

The Goldfish Dancer
By Patricia Robertson
192 pages, $24.95

Reviewed by
Russell Wangersky

Some mornings, you wake up and remember a place you love, and wonder all at once why you haven’t been back recently. With short story collections back on the Canadian radar, collections like The Goldfish Dancer make you realize they never should have left.

These seven pieces have a clear ability to transport the reader from Harlem to Lancashire to Spain. I read Grave of the Heroes in a dilapidated lodge on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula, the room clean despite the hint of cold mildew, and I was instantly transported to the familiar smells of Spain in April. I lived in Barcelona for a year, traveling regularly to the small towns that surround the city. Saskatchewan writer Patricia Robertson captures the sense of those towns dexterously: “On a crumbling stone bridge into the village a herd of cows bunched, flicking ears at the car. The driver, shouting, leaned out his window, palm flat on the horn. Claudia got out and walked.” Robertson conveys the eerie, almost-threatening feel of fiestas that include masked characters, the solemn black garb of the older village women.

Badlands takes you to Western Canada in 1949; After Annabel to a fading London, England, and then back to Vancouver. These are sudden, magic trips, almost note-perfect, the kind of stories that are long enough to give a sense of the people inside, while leaving you almost wistful, wanting to know even more about where they will go once the stories end.

This is not a traditional collection of linked short stories. The characters are too geographically broad, too spread apart in time, place, and nature. But there is one crucial connection: Characters in these stories live. They feel and fear, and they make you do the same. They also move, from place to place to place. No one stands still here – these are real people in motion.

If I have one quibble with the book, it’s the inclusion of the historical novella Girl with a Cello. Its main character is a housemaid working in a variety of households and, simultaneously, working through her search for belonging. It is equally able to transport the reader, but it jars with the others in the collection.

Strangely, the first story, The Goldfish Dancer, occurs in the same timeframe (prior to the First World War) but doesn’t give the same feeling of being separate from the other stories. Perhaps, that’s because the main character’s growth in The Goldfish Dancer depends less on place and historical information, and more on the distinct voice of the character herself.

If this collection had been broken apart and expanded into two books, there’d be plenty of reasons to buy both. It is small, bright-eyed, and luminous – a wonderful goldfish all its own.

Russell Wangersky is an author and columnist from St. John’s, Newfoundland. His memoir on a career as a volunteer firefighter, Burning Down the House, will be released in the spring of 2008.


Anonymous said...

Mea culpa. Mea Robertson culpa.
Your quibble is exactly onthe mark.
My apologies.
Russell Wangersky

biblioasis said...

No problem Russell. As I said, happens all the time. And may have even worked to our advantage once or twice.