It is irritating enough to endure the condescension of a British writer who knows virtually nothing about Canadian culture, but when that writer is Victoria Glenndining, a novelist, biographer, and critic of note, who otherwise commands considerable respect, it is sad. She was, after all, educated at Oxford and many of us weren’t. For those not up on the international furor, Glendinning recently served on the Giller Prize jury and subsequently, in The Financial Times, September 12, showed clearly why she should have graciously declined. As a mystery writer, I don’t expect ever to be subject to her judgement, literary or otherwise. As an ex-critic specializing in Canadian literature, a cultural theorist of modest achievement, and the author of several obscure books of postmodern metafiction, written while I was still harbouring “literary” pretentions, I am indifferent to the whingeing twaddle of a disaffected elderly twit. But, I really do resent stupidity, especially when I as a Canadian am its victim. Ignorance is one thing but an utter absence of civility and common sense is another. It is abusive.
Glendinning thinks we use funny words like “eavestrough” and “toque, “ and we sit in funny devices we have the temerity to call Muskoka chairs (pause for laughter). Our writers write about “families down the generations with multiple points of view and flashbacks to Granny’s youth in the Ukraine or wherever.” The Americans, who are, of course, exactly like us, “do not bang on so about their heritage and antecedents.” We have a tendency to author “unbelievably dreadful” novels, many of which come from, and worse still, are set in, funny sounding places like “Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland. That’s maybe because small publishers too are now subsided, and they proliferate.” (Damned profligate Canadians!) “If you want to get your novel published, be Canadian.”
And if you know nothing about Canadian cultural history but still want to comment on it, you may get your graceless tripe published in The Financial Times. Apparently all it takes is a degree from Oxford and a reputation of sorts.