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Read The Englishman's Boy (1998)

The Englishman's Boy (1998)

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3.78 of 5 Votes: 1
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0312195443 (ISBN13: 9780312195441)

The Englishman's Boy (1998) - Plot & Excerpts

the englishman's boy is part western, and part early hollywood tale, exploring how we interpret civilization and savagery in our personal thoughts and action, and how that is reflected in the rest of society. it does so by recounting two stories: one of the titular character, drifting through the west, earning his guns, and his horse, becoming a man and a cowboy; and it is also the story of a writer who is looking to record the story of that cowboy, in early hollywood, to fulfill somebody else's dream of film as didactic history: both men learning what he can and cannot stand, when he can and cannot stand up for what he believes is right, and what the trade-offs are. it's very well-written, with the occasional purple sentence here and there. i found the alternate chapter structure was well-balanced and the pacing was pretty good, though i had issues with foreshadowing regarding the girl toward the end of the book. the characterization is great, and i adore rachel gold -- some of the most poignant moments in the book swirl around her, and she softens what is a very masculine book. almost what i like best is that this book is written by a canadian but not what i usually come by in canadian literature. sometimes it seems to get your canada arts council grant you have to stuff your book full of canadian themes: totem poles, the immigrant experience, or the vastness of the empty plains, of the country. that's just never resonated with me, and has stultified books i've read in the past. it does take a moment to address what it is to be canadian, however, and i thought this passage rang very true:"And you're a Canadian, Harry. So why is a Canadian so concerned about teaching Americans how to be American?""Because I chose this place... Canada isn't a country at all, it's simply geography. There's no emotion there, not the kind Chance is talking about. There are no Whitmans, no Twains, no Cranes. Half the English Canadians wish they were really English, and the other half wish they were Americans. If you're going to be anything, you have to choose. Even Catholics don't regard Limbo as something permanent. I remember when the ice used to break up on the South Saskatchewan. We'd be woken up in our bed in the middle of the night by a noise like an artillery barrage, you could hear it all over the city, a great crashing and roaring as the ice broke apart and began to move downriver. At first light, everybody would rush out to watch. Hundreds of people gathered on the riverbanks on a cold spring morning, the whole river fracturing, the water smoking up through the cracks, great plates of ice grinding and rubbing against the piles of the bridge with a desperate moan. It always excited me as a kid. I shook with excitement, shook with the ecstasy of movement. We all cheered. What we were cheering nobody knew. But now, here, when I listen to Chance, maybe I understand that my memory is the truest picture of my country, bystanders huddled on a riverbank, cheering as the world sweeps by. In our hearts we preferred the riverbank, preferred to be spectators, preferred to live our little moment of excitement and then forget it. Chance doesn't want Americans to forget to keep moving."i want to keep moving too. :)

This is a real gem. For those who enjoy history, particularly US late nineteenth century and the golden age of silent movies in the 1920s, then this is a must read.Vanderhaeghe cleverly weaves a tale involving two strands: one part of the story sees writer Harry Vincent looking back on a time in his life when he worked for (fictitious) movie mogul Damon Ira Chance in the 1920s; the other part concerns the story of two Assiniboine Indians rustling twenty horses from a group of sleeping white men, wolf hunters taking in their pelts for trade. The wolf hunters then form a search party to retrieve the stolen horses which includes a young drifter known to them only as ‘The Englishman’s Boy.’Meanwhile Vincent is employed by Chance to track down the enigmatic and evasive old-time Western actor Shorty McAdoo in Hollywood. Chance wants to make the ultimate film about the American West and he needs McAdoo to add authenticity.This is a highly ambitious project with Vanderhaeghe’s story taking place in America and Canada as well as two different centuries. Vincent tasked with finding McAdoo is a Canadian himself and through him we get added perspective.With characters like the feisty, intelligent and desirable Rachel Gold and the thuggish and intimidating Denis Fitzsimmons this one crackles and sparkles with strong as well as believable characters and snappy dialogue. Both the 1920s and 1870s are equally well evoked and it’s clear that Vanderhaeghe has done his research.This is a world of DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Lillian Gish and of course cowboys and their story, which forms the meat and potatoes of this novel. Vanderhaeghe expertly crafts a tale that manages to be intriguing as well as authentic as it debunks the myths of the Old West.The movie mogul Chance is only interested in presenting the world with a film through the filter of his own viewpoint where the actual truth can be conveniently discarded as long as he can entertain, provoke and of course influence the public’s opinion.Vincent does not see the world in this way and as he becomes more involved with his subject he has a moral dilemma on his hands: What is more important: Money, or a clear conscience?This is harsh, brutal, savage yet also beautiful and captivating. The novel is packed with powerful, unforgettable images and is bang on the money in its depiction of sentiment and harking back to an age or era that never was or could ever be. A case of ‘the good old bad old days’ if you will.What Chance wants is a rose-tinted epic that tells a story from his own skewed perspective. What Vincent discovers is something far more gripping and complicated as well as a terrible secret which thanks to the strict Hays code that operated at that time would ensure that the truth would always be a hard sell.Despite the tough subject matter which at times I found both bleak and chilling, this stands as a provocative and fascinating novel about two eras which over the ensuing years have been over-romanticised where the truth has been somehow lost in translation. If you are a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck you will love this.

What do You think about The Englishman's Boy (1998)?

We Canadians are a mild much so that even our Indian massacres are mild affairs with low body counts and a minimum of fuss. This book is centred around the Cypress Hills massacre, a pretty tame affair when compared to the massive episodes of bloodletting that occurred with some regularity south of the border. In the USA it would probably be listed as a skirmish, but I'll bet none of that was any consolation to the unfortunate Assiniboine who were being set upon by (mostly) American hunters. Vanderhaeghe details the torment of a fictional youth who was on the side of the aggressors in that conflict.This is an engrossing read, if a tad predictable; I knew how the story would end about 2/3 of the way through the book. I definitely have to check out more of this fellow's work.

Wow, this was such a great book. Vanderhaeghe is a master of descriptive narrative - you can almost smell and feel the atmosphere, especially in the 'historical' parts of the book concerning the wolfers and the build towards the shocking events at Cypress Hills. at the same time, the parallel story of 1920s Hollywood is believable and atmospheric. I want to read much more by this author - apparently, he teaches creative writing at nightschool in Saskatchewan. Lucky pupils - a master writer. Just read it if you can.
—Maggie Donaldson

Wow, what a horrific part of our Canadian history! Although this book was fiction, I appreciated Vanderhaeghe's efforts to raise awareness of the Cyphress Hills Massacre in 1873 (which I did not know beforehand). The twinning of the 2 stories (the massacre in 1873 and the Hollywood silent movie studio 50 years later) was brilliant and effective. Added to this, I applaud the CBC mini-series also written by Vanderhaeghe. It was great seeing the author in his cameo as the bartender. Both the book and the mini-series should be regarded as Canadian classics to be read and watched for many generations.

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