The Invention of the World
The Invention of the World
by Jack Hodgins
- Spring 2010
- ISBN 978-1-55380-099-6
- 6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback, 356 pages
Jack Hodgins begins The Invention of the World with a ferry worker waving you aboard a ship that will take you not only to Vancouver Island but into a world of magic. The far west coast of Canada has always been regarded as a “land’s end” where the eccentrics of the world come to plot out the last best utopia. Hodgins both invents a world and shows how we continually invent that world in all its multiplicity.
Past and present intermingle while hilarious farce rubs up against epic tragedy. Intertwined are a love story, a portrait of a nineteenth-century village, a clash between wild loggers and weight-watching town folk who have to wear a pig when they fail to meet their weight goals. Pagan myths rub shoulders with the harsh pioneer days of the British Columbia rainforest.
As always with Hodgins, this novel is based on the portrayal of character. At the centre of the mystery is Donal Keneally, the mad Irish messiah who eighty years ago persuaded an entire Irish village to emigrate to Canada, there to become his slaves in the Revelations Colony of Truth. His heir is Maggie Kyle along with her collection of boarders in the old Colony of Truth building. Here truly is a novel that is itself an invention of the world.
“No writer has done more than Jack Hodgins to give British Columbia a place on the literary map of North America.” —Robert Bringhurst
“This is an extraordinarily entrancing novel; it mingles history, personal experience, and sheer verbal invention in a way that keeps the reader involved page after page.” —MacDonald Harris, author of The Balloonist
On the day of the Loggers’ Sports, on that day in July, a mighty uproar
broke out in the beer parlour of the Coal-Tyee Hotel, which is an old but
respectable five-storey building directly above the harbour and only a
block or two from the main shopping area of town. To the people out on
the sidewalk, to Maggie Kyle stopping to mail a letter at the corner post
office and to others coming out of the stone courthouse at the top of the
grassy slope across the street, the fight seemed no different at first from
what they might have overheard outside any one of the town’s twentyseven
beer parlours on a Saturday morning like this, just the loud clash of
voice attacking voice, bass and treble. But a fight is still a fight wherever
it is found, and not to be lightly dismissed: like Maggie they all discovered
reasons to hang around for a while, talking to strangers or reading a newspaper
or watching pigeons, to see what would happen next.
What happened next was this: the door banged open and a woman
black as a Zulu in a pair of lumpy jeans and a flowered blouse rushed out
onto the sidewalk yowling insults over her shoulder. That son of a bitch
behind her was worse than a savage animal, she said, and oh how she’d
like to cut his throat. She stopped and swung a terrible scowl around at
her startled audience and loudly offered to do the same for any one of them
who got close enough to reach. They were all the same to her, she said, she
was a stranger in this dump. Bronze hair fell for a moment across a furious
eye, then was flicked back by a ring-cluttered hand. This was no one
Maggie Kyle had ever seen before.
Though the same could not be said of her friend, who stepped out of
the hotel and ducked neatly to miss the beer glass the Zulu hurled. This
was Danny Holland, down again from a bunkhouse camp deep in the
north-island woods to take part in the annual Loggers’ Sports: three times
axe-throwing champion of the island, twice of the whole Pacific Coast. A
celebrity. He was dressed for work or play, it made no difference: a pair of
low-crotched blue jeans hacked off above his boots and held up by wide
elastic braces, a white T-shirt stretched over his thickened middle, and a
shiny new aluminum hat sitting level on his head catching sunlight like a
warrior’s shield. He roared, “Blast you woman for your donkey nature!”
and whipped off the hat to scratch around in his hair.
Then, quickly, the Zulu was down inside the green sedan at the curb.
“I love you, you stupid jerk,” she threw at him, then drove off, snarling
something inaudible at the street gawkers, and disappeared around the
bend behind the town’s one and only highrise apartment building. “Me
too!” he shouted after her, and leaping into his pickup truck, made a tiresquealing
U-turn and drove off down the slope in the opposite direction,
past the post office and the customs house and the boat basin. The spectators
breathed again, sighed; you could always count on a good show when
the up-island people were in town. Straight out of the bush, they didn’t
know any better, half of them were crazy.
The safest thing perhaps, thought Maggie Kyle, was just to ignore them.
But ignoring them would not be possible for long. From around the
curve beneath the highrise the Zulu’s sedan soon reappeared. And from
somewhere down beyond the customs house Danny Holland’s pickup returned,
roaring and bouncing up the slope. They rushed towards each
other from either end of the street. In front of the coffee-shop windows of
the Coal-Tyee Hotel their brakes squealed, both vehicles slid sideways and
whipped back again; their noses met with a harsh grinding crash. Headlights
shattered and fell in pieces to the pavement, grills collapsed, fenders
folded back. In the terrible silence that followed, both drivers’ heads were
wooden-rigid; from behind the glass they glared at one another.
It was amazing, someone near Maggie said, what love could do.
Then both reversed and backed away from the scene of the crash in
opposite directions down the street. The woman’s sedan dragged a squealing
piece of its own bumper along the blacktop. Danny Holland’s pickup
sprinkled a trail of broken glass; the upright exhaust pipe behind his cab
threw up clouds of smoke, plumes of challenge. They stopped, changed
gears noisily, and roared ahead again. This time there were no brakes applied;
they nearly missed, sideswiped each other, and bounced away. Doors
sank in, windows clouded up and laced themselves like crazy cobwebs.
Something dropped out of the bottom of the sedan and clattered across the
pavement towards Maggie’s feet.
They turned again and once more came at each other, cautiously, this
time hitting directly nose to nose, barely hard enough to scratch. Engines
stalled. Something heavy dropped from under the sedan and the back end
settled like a tired bull. A moment before the quiet impact the woman’s
door had opened and she leapt free, rolled over twice towards the hotel,
and righted herself in a sitting position against a light pole. She held an
arm hugged close against her waist, nursing it, rocking. A small stream of
blood glistened on her cheek.
Danny Holland, as Maggie Kyle and anyone else who knew him would
expect, sat behind the wheel of his pickup and laughed. He spat snoose out
the broken window onto the pavement and wiped an arm across his
mouth. If the rather vigorous demonstration of his feelings had caused
him any pain he wasn’t about to show it here. He laughed again. When he
opened his door it squealed and popped and sagged. Standing on his step,
he hauled a red-and-white handkerchief out of the back pocket of his big
loose jeans and blew his nose, as if he’d waited days for just this opportunity.
Then, shoving the handkerchief back down inside the pocket, he
looked at the long-legged black woman at the curb. “Well?” he said.
“You’re still a jerk,” she said, but with less conviction.
Before he could step down from the pickup to prove her right or
wrong, the wail of a police siren came clearly on the air from somewhere
deep in town. Danny Holland dropped back inside his truck, leaned into
his starter button until his engine finally caught, backed off, and drove
whining and sputtering away without so much as a see-you-hon to his
woman. By the time the police arrived he was long gone and the woman
was left to protest in a loud and insolent voice that it had only been a
friendly fight and nobody’s business but their own.
“He’s a son of a bitch all the same,” she told the RCMP officer who
helped her to her feet. What she lacked in variety of language she made
up for in sincerity of tone. “When I see him again I’ll cut his stinkin’
“When you see him again,” the officer said, “you’ll both be talking to
a judge.” He winked at someone on the curb, to show that he understood
the craziness of bush people as well as anyone else.
“Don’t count on it,” she said, and put a hand over the bleeding side of
her face. “There’s a long line of people want to get their hands on Danny
Holland’s throat but none of them ever seem to manage it.”
Other Ronsdale books by Jack Hodgins:
- The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne: Or a Word or Two on Those Port Annie Miracles
- The Barclay Family Theatre
- Spit Delaney’s Island
Reviews & Awards:
Winner of the Gibson’s First Novel Award
“A major and memorable achievement.” —Vancouver Sun