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9780385495431

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel

Johnston, Wayne

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9780385495431: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel

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.

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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

From the Back Cover:

"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

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