9780385495431

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel

Johnston, Wayne

ISBN 10: 0385495439 / 0-385-49543-9
ISBN 13: 9780385495431
Publisher: Anchor
Publication Date: 2000
Binding: Softcover
Editorial Reviews for this title:
Synopsis:
A mystery and a love story spanning five decades, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is an epic portrait of passion and ambition, set against the beautiful, brutal landscape of Newfoundland. In this widely acclaimed novel, Johnston has created two of the most memorable characters in recent fiction: Joey Smallwood, who claws his way up from poverty to become New Foundland's first premier; and Sheilagh Fielding, who renounces her father's wealth to become a popular columnist and writer, a gifted satirist who casts a haunting shadow on Smallwood's life and career.

The two meet as children at school and grow to realize that their lives are irreversibly intertwined, bound together by a secret they don't know they share. Smallwood, always on the make, torn between love of country and fear of failure, is as reluctant to trust the private truths of his heart as his rival and savior, Fielding--brilliant, hard-drinking, and unconventionally sexy. Their story ranges from small-town Newfoundland to New York City, from the harrowing ice floes of the seal hunt to the lavish drawing rooms of colonial governors, and combines erudition, comedy, and unflagging narrative brio in a manner reminiscent of John Irving and Charles Dickens. A tragicomic elegy for the "colony of unrequited dreams" that is Newfoundland, Wayne Johnston's masterful tribute to a people and a place establishes him as a novelist who is as profound as he is funny, with an impeccable sense of the intersection where private lives and history collide.

Review:
In 1949, Joseph Smallwood became the first premier of the newly federated Canadian province of Newfoundland. Predictably, and almost immediately, his name retreated to the footnotes of history. And yet, as Wayne Johnston makes plain in his epic and affectionate fifth novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Smallwood's life was endearingly emblematic, an instance of an extraordinary man emerging at a propitious moment. The particular charm of Johnston's book, however, lies not merely in unveiling a career that so seamlessly coincided with the burgeoning self-consciousness of Newfoundland itself, but in exposing a simple truth--namely, that history is no more than the accretion of lived lives.

Born into debilitating poverty, Smallwood is sustained by a bottomless faith in his own industry. His unabashed ambition is to "rise not from rags to riches, but from obscurity to world renown." To this end, he undertakes tasks both sublime and baffling--walking 700 miles along a Newfoundland railroad line in a self-martyring union drive; narrating a homespun radio spot; and endlessly irritating and ingratiating himself with the Newfoundland political machine. His opaque and constant incitement is an unconsummated love for his childhood friend, Sheilagh Fielding. Headstrong and dissolute, she weaves in and out of Smallwood's life like a salaried goad, alternately frustrating and illuminating his ambitions. Smallwood is harried as well by Newfoundland's subtle gravity, a sense that he can never escape the tug of his native land, since his only certainty is the island itself--that "massive assertion of land, sea's end, the outer limit of all the water in the world, a great, looming, sky-obliterating chunk of rock."

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams bogs down after a time in its detailing of Smallwood's many political intrigues and in the lingering matter of a mysterious letter supposedly written by Fielding. However, when he speculates on the secret motives of his peers, or when he reveals his own hyperbolic fantasies and grandiose hopes--matters no one would ever confess aloud--the novel is both apt and amiable. Best of all is to watch Smallwood's inevitable progress toward a practical cynicism. It seems nothing less than miraculous that his countless disappointments pave the way for his ascension, that his private travails ultimately align with the land he loves. This is history resuscitated. --Ben Guterson

Review

Review:
"A novel of cavernous complexity that nevertheless doesn't overwhelm the reader, who can repose in pure narrative without second thoughts--[an] eloquent anti-epic."--Luc Sante, New York Times Book Review

"Gorgeously written--Immensely readable--."-- Seattle Times

"Charles Dickens would have greatly admired Johnston's style and humor--And the old master would have envied the vivid scenes Johnston draws of Smallwood's impoverished boyhood."-- Houston Chronicle

"Brilliantly realized--There's an epic quality to The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, and it may well be referred to, before long, as the quintessential Newfoundland novel."-- San Diego Union Tribune

"Splendid...entertaining...Rich and complex, it offers Dickensian pleasures."--Andrea Barrett

"Wayne Johnston is a brilliant and accomplished writer and his Newfoundland--boots and boats, rough politics and rough country, history and journalism during the wild Smallwood years is vivid and sharp."--Annie Proulx

From the Back Cover

Editorial reviews may belong to another edition of this title.
 

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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (ISBN: 9780385495431)
Johnston, Wayne
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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel (ISBN: 0385495439 / 0-385-49543-9)
Johnston, Wayne
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Book Description: Anchor. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0385495439 Joey Smallwood, a privileged boy intent on making a name for himself, and Shelagh Fielding, a journalist who pens his rise to power, confront their own frailties, secrets, and mutual love, in an immensely rich and utterly involving novel of twentieth-century Newfoundland. Reprint. 40,000 first printing. Bookseller Inventory # 4746392

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Johnston, Wayne
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Book Description: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc, United States, 2000. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 200 x 132 mm. Language: English Brand New Book. 1. Both Joe and his father suffer from the fact that their last name adorns a large iron boot hanging at the entrance to the harbor, advertising the family shoe store. Why is the boot so oppressive that both Joe and his father sometimes dream about it? Why does Joe finally take it down? 2. Joe is haunted by the sense of his own insignificance: It seemed to me that unless I did something that historians thought was worth recording, it would be as if I had never lived, that all the histories in the world together formed one book, not to warrant inclusion in which was to have wasted one s life [p. 454]. Why does he feel this way? What is the relationship between the ambitions of Joe Smallwood and his paternal heritage of small-time shopkeeping, alcoholism, and failure? How do his experiences at Bishop Feild school affect his ideas about himself? 3. Johnston has created the structure of the book by interspersing Joe Smallwood s first-person narrative with excerpts from Fielding s journal, her History of Newfoundland, and her Field Day newspaper columns. What is the effect, as you read, of the interplay of these parts? 4. Smallwood s conversion to socialism takes place after his haunting vision of the frozen bodies of the sealers who died on the ice. Would you say that his walk across the island to unionize the men is Smallwood s most heroic act in the novel? How does the rest of his career compare with the scale of this exploit? 5. Returning to Newfoundland after five years in New York, Joe says, It was as if I saw, for a fleeting second, the place as it had been while I was away, and as it would be after I was gone, separate from me, not coloured by my past or my perceptions. . . . A kind of hurt surged up in my throat, a sorrow that seemed to have no object and no cause, which I tried to swallow down but couldn t [pp. 211-12]. Why is this such a painful moment for him? 6. Johnston has given Joe Smallwood the role of protagonist and the main first-person narrative, but some reviewers have expressed the opinion that Sheilagh Fielding is a more compelling character. Is Fielding ultimately more admirable than Smallwood? Whose life story is more interesting? 7. Joe Smallwood is not mentioned in Fielding s History, which ends in 1923 when Sir Richard Squires is prime minister. Why does Fielding end her history there? 8. Why does Smallwood s marriage proposal to Fielding go awry? When he next sees her, she tells him with her customary irony that she has been reduced to hermiting because you broke my heart [p. 228]. How true is this statement? Why does Smallwood marry Clara Oates and not Fielding? 9. Freezing to death on the Bonavista branch line, Smallwood imagines his own obituary [p. 225]. What makes this scene so touching and so comical? Joe is saved by Fielding, who here as at other crucial moments makes herself indispensable. Does Smallwood perform the same function in her life? Is their relationship, on the whole, reciprocal in terms of giving and receiving? 10. Sir Richard Squires tells Joe, Power is what you want, though I ll never get you to admit it. You picked socialism because you thought it was your best way of getting ahead. . . . You re not an artist, you re not a scientist, you re not an intellectual. All that s left to you is politics [p. 270]. How accurate is Sir Richard s assessment of Joe s character? Joe responds that the distinguishing characteristic of the true socialist.was selflessness [p. 271]. Do selflessness and self-interest necessarily conflict? 11. Some Canadian readers have been troubled by the liberties that Wayne Johnston has taken with the life of Newfoundland s first premier. Is the book more purely fictional, and therefore more purely enjoyable, for American readers, for whom Smallwood is not a known entity? It appears, for instance, that Johnston created the character of Fielding wholly from his own imagination. Why do you suppose he decided that Fielding was neede. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780385495431

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