Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: The Watch that Ends the Night

Child #4 snuggling with Dorothy the Dog and pretending to read my very own copy of The Watch that Ends the Night. This book, BTW, will be re-released in May.

Cover copy (from McGill-Queen's University Press): George and Catherine Stewart share not only the burden of Catherine's heart disease, which could cause her death at any time, but the memory of Jerome Martell, her first husband and George's closest friend. Martel, a brilliant doctor passionately concerned with social justice, is presumed to have died in a Nazi prison camp. His sudden return to Montreal precipitates the central crisis of the novel. Hugh MacLennan takes the reader into the lives of his three characters and back into the world of Montreal in the thirties, when politics could send an idealist across the world to Spain, France, Auschwitz, Russia, and China before his return home.

I think it's pretty universally accepted that Catherine Stewart is based on MacLennan's own wife and her illness. Everyone also agrees that one of the minor characters takes after William Lyon Mackenzie King, a Canadian Prime Minister.

Here's the first line: There are some stories into which the reader should be led gently, and I think this may be one of them.

Last line: Ha! You didn't really think I'd tell you! (And, no, that is NOT the last line. :) )

Simply put, Hugh MacLennan defined Canadian Literature. He's one of our favourite and greatest authors. He wrote about Canadians and Canadian politics which paved the way for other Canadian writers to do the same. (Ironically, MacLennan's first two novels, which were never published, were about his travels abroad.) MacLennan pulled off something as yet unmatched by any others: he was awarded FIVE GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARDS (3 for fiction, 2 for nonficiton). The Watch that Ends the Night was his third GG.

Hugh MacLennan (1907 -1990). John Hugh MacLennan was born in Nova Scotia. He studied at Dalhousie University, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and did his doctorate at Princeton. Not just your average Joe! He taught at Lower Canada College and later became a prof at McGill University in Montreal where he taught in the English Department for THIRTY YEARS. He married Dorothy Duncan, an American writer. A couple of years after his first wife's death, he married Aline Walker.

HERE'S AN ODD COINCIDENCE: Mr. MacLennan and I both lived in Quebec at the same time AND we lived really really close to each other. I was at the Universite de Sherbrooke; he was retired in North Hatley. North Hatley is small, small, tiny. I had professors in North Hatley. I definitely did some hanging out in North Hatley. From my research for this post, I discovered that one of my Sherbrooke profs, Ronald Sutherland, was ACTUALLY FRIENDS WITH HUGH MACLENNAN. If I'd only known. I could've come up with an excuse to meet Mr. MacLennan and have all his books autographed to me, me, me. And maybe even invite him out for a coffee and some mille feuilles (my favorite dessert when I was living in Quebec). Sadly, this is one of those stories where paths could've crossed, but didn't. :(

And, lastly, I leave you with a music video of The Tragically Hip (a Canadian group of four guys from Kingston, Ontario that was massively popular in the early 80s. This is The Hip (their nickname) singing their song "Courage (for Hugh MacLennon)"

Please pop over to Patti Abbott at pattinase's blog for links to other posts for Friday's Forgotten Books. It's always a fantastic line-up.

p.s. Sorry for the incredibly long post. I really got carried away with all the tripping down memory lane!



Kristina P. said...

It sounds like a very powerful and interesting book!

Barbara Martin said...

What memories you bring, Barrie! Famous Canadian authors, Montreal and music from the 80s. I lived in Montreal in the mid-80s on Summerhill off Cote-des-Neiges.

Barrie said...

Barbara, I think if we get together the next time I'm in T.O., we'll stay up far too late. We're both such night owls!

Beth said...

No apologies - was happy to join you on the trip. Reminded me of my Canadian Lit course in university and reading MacLennan's work.
I loved that novel.
(Great video.)

Sheri said...

THat was nice getting to know that part of your history. I hate when I discover too late, paths I crossed but didn't know it... Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken in another light.

So, if you lived in Quebec, do you parlez vous Francais?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love the personal and the wonderful pic. Thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

I must confess to not knowing anything about him. But I have liked the Tragically Hip for a long time. Lana, who lived in Canada for years, is a big fan and turned me on to them.

New Orleans is sinking, and man I don't wanna swim.

Laura said...

I am going to go and find that oldie, but goodie!

Your code seemed to work - though not sure if you want to link to your main page or a sub-category...

I just read the new Wally Lamb book...OH! My! He sure does not disappoint! I cried the last 45 pages!!! Well, sobbed actually!


sara said...

What a fabulous first line! Sounds like it'll be great!

AC said...

The book sounds really good. Unfortunately I don't know a lot about Canadian history of any kind :(

Also, I couldn't see the link to The Tragically Hip so I'm bopping over to YouTube to check them out!

Melanie said...

You know, I can't remember if I have read that book or not even though I can see it on my book shelf from where I sit. I have read Barometer Rising a number of times though and am just about to re-read it. Thanks for sharing this - and the video (which I didn't know was for Hugh).

Travis Erwin said...

I did a review of you book today. Hope you like it as much as I did reading I So Don't Do Mysteries.

Lady Glamis said...

I'm in love with that first line. It makes me want to read the whole book. How exciting that it will be re-released!

Thank you for a great post.

Chantal said...

My brother went to Bishops and we used to go visit him and stay in a BnB in North Hatley! It is so beautiful there. Lake Memphrémagog and the surrounding mountains. Phew.

~Virginia~ said...

memory lane trips are the best kind! :)

laughingwolf said...

as a fellow canuck, i read some of hugh's stuff, and was always impressed by his intellect... thx barrie :)

not an easter coaster, i'm only in halifax to parent my kids since the ex took a major stroke late 1997, she's still paralyzed on right and unable to speak....


Great post.

lyzzydee said...

Now I am intrigued, I am not 'allowed' to watch theb vid, its not allowed in my country, what on earth is it????

Barrie said...

Hi Lyzzydee! Here are the lyrics to the song the band is singing:
Watch the band through a bunch of dancers
Quickly, follow the unknown with something more familiar.
Quickly something familiar
Courage, my word it didn't come it doesn't matter

Sleepwalk, so fast asleep in a motel
that has the lay of home and piss on all of your
background and piss on all your surroundings
Courage, my word, it didn't come, it doesn't matter
Courage, it couldn't come at a worse time

So there's no simple explanation
for anything important any of us do
and yeah the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
under pressure, under pressure.
Courage, my word, it didn't come, it doesn't matter,
Courage, it couldn't come at a worse time.
[ Courage (for Hugh Maclennan) Lyrics on ]

Barrie said...

Sheri, I do speak French. Although I get to use it so rarely now, that I'm probably tres tres rusty!

gabe said...

Barrie you are so cool!

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