Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Leamington in the Literary News

A few of my friends know that I keep a list of novels that mention Leamington.  There are actually a number of them.

As many of you would have heard, the great Canadian novelist Alistair McLeod recently passed away.  One of the most memorable novels to include the great town of Leamington is 'No Great Mischief'.

Here is an article which highlights the different locations in 'No Great Mischief'.

Alistair MacLeod’s great novel No Great Mischief is an unheralded Toronto story

Toronto Star - April 25, 2014

This may well be Alistair MacLeod's Spadina, the apartments over shops he writes about in No Great Mischief.

 This may well be Alistair MacLeod's Spadina, the apartments over shops he writes about in No Great Mischief.   
      When I moved to Toronto nearly 14 years ago, one of the first books I read about this city was Alistair MacLeod’s 1999 novel No Great Mischief. A gift from my mom, the book had connections to the city I’d just left, Windsor, where MacLeod lived, and Nova Scotia, mom’s ancestral home. Unexpectedly, there was a lot of Toronto in it, though the narrative roams across half of Canada and over to the Scottish Highlands.
MacLeod, who died last weekend at the age of 77, has been celebrated throughout the country and especially in my hometown, but when I reflect on him and his famous novel I think mostly of Spadina Ave. No Great Mischief begins with a man’s drive into Toronto to visit an alcoholic brother, a lost soul who lives in a small apartment above the street, hidden from view in a scene captured perfectly by MacLeod, a passage I’m reminded of whenever I’m on Spadina:
“Between those storefront doors, there are often other doors that the casual person might not notice because they seem so commonplace,” MacLeod writes. “They are often painted brown and may or may not have numbers above them, often with one digit missing or hanging crookedly from their nails. When you open these doors, there may or may not be a row of mailboxes, some bearing names stuck on with grey adhesive tape. Almost all of these buildings, though, have a wooden stairway that leads steeply up to a hall lit by a yellow forty-watt bulb, and along this hallway and sometimes along other hallways above it are the people who live above the street-level stores.”
MacLeod doesn’t specify which building; it could be the Waverly, the single room occupancy hotel just north of College St., or maybe it’s one of the grand but shabby Victorian buildings on the edge of Kensington Market. That he wasn’t entirely specific means every building on Spadina has the potential to contain this story, or hundreds, maybe thousands of others like it over time, some tragic, many others not. Fourteen years after reading MacLeod’s book I still look for those doorways and, if they have windows, I peer up the wooden stairs, all passageways to Toronto stories.
Great novels and novelists connect people and places in ways we may not have noticed on our own, but once we see those connections banged out in print they become permanent in our brains and real out on the street. No Great Mischief also begins on the roads that lead to Toronto starting in the tomato fields near Leamington on the Lake Erie coast. If you’re not from Toronto originally, your idea of the city likely includes the way you got here, perhaps it’s the ride in the from the airport or, if you’re from Southwestern Ontario, the highways that lead to the city.
Sometimes that means the 401, but when you’ve driven it many dozens of times, the longer, scenic routes along Highways 2 or 3 are diversions from the freeway monotony. If there’s time to spare, even more elaborate routes — along various rural roads following a loose Toronto-bound compass — can be taken. As MacLeod writes, “the realization of the city of Toronto is always something of a surprise,” as its far edges are marked by increased traffic and the need to pay attention to how you’re getting in. Toronto is not a casual experience to roll into, especially in a car, particularly if you’re not from here.
In No Great Mischief Toronto is like an octopus with tentacles that meander out into the hinterland, down to Windsor or even farther out to Cape Breton and beyond. Personal versions of MacLeod’s narrative relate to just about everyone here who has connections elsewhere. He gave us a road map into our city and to everywhere else we’re connected.

Shawn Micallef writes every Friday about where and how we live in the GTA. Wander the streets with him on Twitter @shawnmicallef

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