THE NAVIGATOR OF NEW YORK by Wayne Johnston (Knopf Canada), 486 pages, $37 cloth. Rating: NNN
like his phenomenal the colony Of Unrequited Dreams, ex-East Coaster Wayne Johnston's The Navigator Of New York is a sweeping epic of historical fiction. It's the type of book that could star Charlton Heston or Peter O'Toole in a film adaptation.But unlike Colony, which brought Joey Smallwood's Newfoundland legacy to life, Navigator dances between Johnston's familiar home turf of St. John's and the urban upheaval of New York on the cusp of the 20th century.
Raised by a devoted aunt and resentful uncle, alienated from kids his own age, Devlin Stead pines for the father he never knew and wonders whether he, too, will succumb to an early death. When he receives a mysterious letter from Dr. Frederick Cook, a New York explorer who accompanied Peary on the Arctic mission that led to his father's death, Devlin's life is turned upside down.
He enters into a convoluted epistolary relationship with Cook, questioning everything he's ever assumed about his own history in the process. Eventually, Devlin leaves St. John's for Manhattan, where Cook draws him into a web of adventure and deception that leads him all the way to the Arctic Circle.
The theme of Johnston's weighty tome hinges on Devlin's driving lust for knowledge, and on the tenuous relationship of history, fact and fiction. But the philosophical heft of the tale bogs the prose down and the historical minutiae make the book read like a travelogue. Plus, Devlin has a deep mistrust of his instincts and picks apart every decision, thought and fact. Following along can be exhausting.
The Navigator Of New York may have been shortlisted for the Giller Prize and nominated for the Governor General's Award, but if The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams is a graceful waltz through history, Johnston's new book is a clumsier clog dance.
Johnston takes the stage tonight (Thursday, October 24), tomorrow (Friday, October 25) and Monday (October 28). See International Festival of Authors, this page. Write Books at firstname.lastname@example.org
NOW spotlights two hot books by novelists hitting the 23rd International Festival Of Authors