The charm in this book is that it captures our cynicism towards politics and dives into that cynicism with gusto & comedy.
Meet Daniel Addison, 32-year-old burnt-out former speechwriter to the leader of the Liberal opposition, whose voice reminded me a bit of a restrained Rick Mercer (or maybe he's the parallel-universe-Mercer born in Toronto?). The main plot revolves around Addison’s attempts to find someone with a pulse willing to run for the Liberal seat in Cumberland-Prescott, a riding with about as much hope of electing a Liberal as Canada has of electing a female Prime Minister from the Green Party(:.
My favourite Addison observations are either about Parliament Hill absurdities like how the pendulum of power swings between the cynical political operators (CPOs) and the idealist policy wonks (IPWs), or the way he describes falling into dogshit (both literally and figuratively:)
Addison finally finds the pulse he's looking for in one cantakerous Angus McLintock, an engineering prof who also happens to be Addison's new landlord. McLintock is a crazy-haired Scot, grammar-freak, unkempt, brutally honest, bereft of social graces, ...in other words, a bit too caricature-esque for my liking but I managed to get over both him and 'the Petes' because I liked the story. I thought Muriel, on the other hand, to be a very believable and loveable character.
I also had a love-hate relationship with those love letters McLintock wrote to his dead wife at the end of each chapter. Great idea in theory, but the execution left me wanting those letters to move the plot rather than stall it. Even as a sober second thought, wisdom thing, it didn't do enough to satisfy me.
Here are the two main take-aways of this book that make it worthy of the Canada Reads title:
1. Yes, Canada is being run by short-sighted people with self-serving agendas. At the very least anyone running for office should read this novel before hitting the campaign trail. At the most, if we don't want Canada to continue being run by short-sighted people with self-serving agendas, we should start a scavenger hunt for some Angus.
2. Beyond the novel, I think the story behind this book's publication serves as an inspiration to those of us who are neither university English profs nor MFA graduates. We all know that the deck is stacked against us by that publishing culture of elitism. However, it reminded me (and hopefully some agents & publishers) of a sign I once read - it was posted on an outhouse in St. John's, Nfld.
Here's to Canada finding Angus!