THE INCIDENT REPORT by Martha Baillie (Pedlar), 186 pages, $21 (paper). Rating: NNN
You won't enter a Toronto public library in the same way after reading Martha Baillie's haunting new novel, set in a fictional branch in Allan Gardens.
The Incident Report consists of 144 reports, some long and detailed, others haiku-like in their suggestive minimalism. They're all filed by Miriam Gordon, a librarian in her mid-30s whose cautious and detached demeanour make her an objective report-taker. Initially, that is.
Then she meets Janko, a mysterious cab driver/artist from Slovenia, who becomes her lover. At around the same time, she begins receiving letters hidden throughout the library from a man who claims to be Rigoletto, Verdi's tragic hunchbacked jester. This unseen man - part of the book's pull comes from wondering who he is among the assortment of characters - believes Miriam is his daughter Gilda, whom he wants to save.
Bibliophiles will appreciate Baillie's evocation of library life, from bizarre Internet requests to post-masturbatory cleanup sessions. Baillie is a clear-eyed chronicler of various forms of mental illness.
She also layers the novel with images and motifs, suggesting that these reports could be taking place in the narrator's own mind. More clarity on that point might help, however. And what does Miriam love about books?
Read this in one or two sittings so its gallery of colourful characters feels as real as people you pass on the street every day.
Baillie reads on Wednesday (April 22), at the Cliffcrest Library (see Readings, this page), then launches the book April 28 at the Gladstone.