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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life. February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, literature, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Story of a Haunted Life.

By Dan DavidsonFirst Blast

February 8, 2017

– 797 words –



First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

By Eric McCormack

Penguin Books

272 pages



Perhaps the first thing to get out of the way is the identity of the author. This is not the Canadian actor Eric McCormack of television fame, star of the western, Lonesome Dove, the comedy series, Will and Grace, , the mystery series, Perception and, most recently, the time travel adventure, Travellers (which has been renewed, by the way).

No, this is the Eric McCormack who was born in Scotland, taught school there, immigrated to Canada for get his Ph.D. and spent decades on staff at the University of Waterloo before retiring to live in Kingston.

They’re about 25 years apart in age.

The McCormack in this column has written a short story collection and five strange but compelling novels. This is the third novel, published in 1997 and winner of the Governor General’s Award for that year.

I had been hoping for another book like his mystery novel, The Mysterium (1993), when I picked this one up a few years ago, and it has languished on my shelves for several years.

The title is a play on a 1558 polemic by the Scottish reformer John Knox, entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. Knox believed that it was unnatural (monstrous) for women to rule (regiment) a country. He had in mind a succession of Marys who held power in England, as well as Elizabeth I.

In this book, the title refers mostly to the frightening parade of cloaked women who haunt the nightmares of Andrew Halfnight, a Scots orphan who has taken to writing this memoir at the behest of his wife, in order to sort out the emotions and events that have troubled him through much of his life.

Andrew was one of a pair of twins, whose sister was accidentally killed by their father in a bizarre christening event in the back yard of their home. This led almost immediately to the strange suicide of his father, who was discovered at the bottom of a nearby cliff with one arm missing.

It would be years before Andrew learned about that arm, where it came from, and how it came to be the death of his sister.

Long before that his mother died of a mysterious wasting disease during which he, then a schoolboy, was her main caregiver, assisting Doctor Giffen, who would later take on the role of guardian for a brief period until Andrew was sent to live with an aunt he had never met on the strange island of St. Jude.

In a life full of strange and often terrible events, Andrew endured a long sea voyage with the aid of Harry Greene, the Steward and Medic on the Comnock. The pair formed a life long friendship on that trip and Andrew learned much from the bookish sailor, but he also learned about Knox’s book, and its title became a trigger for his dreams.

St, Jude eventually turns out to be a place where Andrew witnesses murder (twice tried) and the incredible violence of nature. As if to balance all this, it is also be the place where he meets the girl who many years later, becomes his wife.

The narrative moves from tropical storms to Ontario, and place called Camberloo (which seems to be an amalgam of Cambridge and Waterloo University), where Andrew might have lived an unremarkable middle age were it not that he is afflicted with bad dreams and a recurring black spot that threatened at times to occlude his vision.

He has an unfortunate prolonged sexual dalliance with a mad woman and is driven almost to madness himself before a winter vehicular mishap that puts him in the hospital for a time, and which he can not, for several years after, recall in any detail.

It is, in fact, the writing of this memoir that brings back all his blocked memories and allows him, in conversation with Maria, his wife, to bring what had been a disturbing narrative to a happy conclusion.

This is, by any assessment, a weird tale full of strange events and even stranger individuals. Andrew, troubled by events and people, and uncertain of his place in the world, is a likeable but frustrating narrator.

The 51 chapters is divided into six sections, and I found that I paused after each of them for at least a day before moving on to the next. I needed to stop and absorb what had just happened to Andrew. I’m not particularly fond of this fictional life story variety of novel, but this on was quote worthwhile.