Now, Roberts was a pretty terrific poet, but he's name-checked more often than read, and his fiction doesn't get talked about very much even by the critics going to the trouble of name-checking his poetry. Sure, he wrote a vast number of books, so many that they can't possibly all be worth reading, and some of them are almost unrecoverably dated, but the 1900 Heart of the Ancient Wood is just bizarre enough that it shouldn't be overlooked. I mean, a colonialist frontier novel about the intersection between proto-feminism and vegetarianism that draws on Shakespeare's The Tempest and Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter? Such stuff as dreams are made on, amirite?
(And before you ask -- yes, indeed I do realize that for most people, this would count as six distinct reasons NOT to read the book. I'm guessing that those people won't find themselves on this blog very often anyway.)
If you happen to pick up the New Canadian Library edition, though, let me just say that you should under no circumstances read the introduction before reading the novel. Even the very first paragraph gives away crucial plot points, and by its end, the introduction -- by the henceforth accursed Joseph Gold -- reveals every single narrative twist. These are hanging offences, in my
So … is this all a build-up for a book review that tells you nothing whatever about the book being reviewed?
The novel's spark is a mother's decision to abandon a frontier settlement and raise her daughter entirely alone, far from civilization but intimate with the wild. The novel itself is about the growth of a young girl into feral animality as well as womanhood, and about the Schrodingerian resolution of competing possibilities. Essentialism plus colonialism plus posthumanism, Romantic nature-loving plus anti-hunting diatribes plus Alone in the Wilderness: I refuse to give any more away than that.
Should I teach it in September, I wonder?