New review online: The Path to Ardroe by John Lent
My review of John Lent’s new novel is up on the National Post website. This is an interesting case for me, given recent online discussions of the nature and function of reviewing in our culture. The debates I’ve seen tend to break reviews down into opposing camps of positive (generally perceived as desirable) and negative (generally perceived as undesirable, and often prompted by spite or envy). In my experience, most books refuse to accede to this kind of reductivist thinking, and this is certainly the case with Lent’s novel. It’s a book that lingers, even weeks after writing the review. (There aren’t a lot of books I can honestly say that about these days.) One of the misapprehensions people seem to have about reviewing involves the assumption that a review is the critic’s final word on a book. My response to Lent’s novel is complex and, I admit, still evolving. The review in the Post represents a jumping off point, not a destination. Whether that is apparent to readers of the review is not up to me to determine.
Thematically, The Path to Ardroe involves a reckoning with Boomer nostalgia and the transformations that have accrued — most specifically in the areas of sexuality and aesthetics — since the 1960s. Longtime readers of Lent will recognize familiar elements here: the ever-present alcoholic fathers, the obsession with landscape, the devotion to music, and a narrative exploration of consciousness and being. Lent’s approach is resolutely interior, and in certain long passages of the book not a lot actually happens: The narrative is more concerned with contemplation about the march of history and the place of individual consciousness in the world. Although the book as a whole disavows the notion that the idealists of the sixties vanished into the self-absorbed yuppies of the 1980s, Lent generally allows his characters a nuanced view of progress.