Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Speculative Fictions: Contemporary Canadian Novelists and the Writing of History

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Speculative Fictions: Contemporary Canadian Novelists and the Writing of History

Article excerpt

Herb Wyile, Speculative Fictions: Contemporary Canadian Novelists and the Writing of History (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002), xvii + 316pp. Cloth. £57. ISBN: 0-7735-2315-4.

Herb Wyile's book makes an excellent contribution to the study of Canadian literature. His prose is confident, fluid, and engaging. Though his topic has of course been covered before, he makes an original contribution by linking together disparate texts (some more well known than others) and underpins each chapter with a clear engagement with critical voices and theorists. Arguing that contemporary historical novels act as an important 'extension' of the 'narrating into existence' of Canadian literature, Wyile also problematises that very narrative. He structures his text around ideas rather than individual texts, and the result is a circling back to texts in different contexts, a form that could be irritating in less accomplished hands. However, Wyile manages a potentially difficult structure well, and as a result, readers can re-experience individual texts in new and interesting ways, which works as an apt metaphor for what this historical novel itself does to history.

Speculative Fictions is divided into four long chapters, plus a short 'period piece' conclusion. The first chapter sets the context for the work as a whole, and engages with the critical debates around historiography and narrative. As expected, the theorists Foucault, Hutcheon, Derrida, Bhabha and Kristeva are particularly useful here, though Wyile is careful to interweave a number of different critical voices throughout the text (and it is heartening to see how many of them are British Canadianists). In Chapter 2, more specific analysis of fictional texts begins, and the focus is on how these texts redefine and revise Canadian history - and nationhood - in particularly postcolonial terms. …

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