By Amanda Leduc
Self-Published, 2009, 388 pp. $2.99 CDN
Reviewed by: James Onusko
Amanda Leduc’s debut novel is a well-written and interesting book that signals both skill and promise for the Ontario-based writer. With another novel scheduled to be published in the spring of 2013 with ECW Press, undoubtedly, the Canadian literary scene has an impressive addition that should be with us for a number of years.
Amanda Leduc was born in Canada and has lived in Britain, British Columbia, and Ontario. She has published articles in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Along with writing in several genres, she is an active user of social media and her blog is entitled, Waiting for an Echo. It features her writing, reviews and photographs from around the globe.
Leduc’s novel focuses on Rosa Delacroix and is essentially a coming of age story for a twenty-two year-old. While not comprehensively so, the author focuses on several months in Victoria, BC where Rosa has moved to study creative writing at the University of Victoria. The author has chosen to explore the challenges of becoming a writer through her protagonist and it works well. I found the dialogue to be crisp and witty. Rosa is believable and it is rather easy to befriend her as a reader. She is a thoughtful and generous person, and is skillfully juxtaposed with Aylish, a fellow co-ed and aspiring writer. Aylish is many things that Rosa is not, in particular, not as bound to her religion and accompanying morality. Additionally, Aylish is relatively worldly with a serious live-in boyfriend and more experience with relationships and sex than Rosa. The plot centres on Rosa’s growth as a writer and her concomitant exploration of her sexuality.
Rosa maintains a good relationship with her family in Ontario and has an ongoing platonic relationship with James, an older, former high school teacher that has kept in touch with her. He lives in Vancouver and he and Rosa get together from time to time throughout the novel. Like many of the other characters, he is developed fully and likeable. James is one such character and his importance to Rosa both personally and intellectually is important throughout the book.
In this excerpt Rosa is in a story workshop with Aylish and classmates at the university:
“I love this story,” says Gemma. Gemma is a poet, a songwriter more than a short story person, and this she freely admits. “It’s so strange, but so symbolic at the same time.”
Symbolic? She doesn’t remember the story as being symbolic of anything. Did she not read it hard enough? What did she miss?
“Yes,” says Aylish. “ I thought so too. I liked the allusions to Carroll’s Alice, the question of what waited for Tom at the bottom of the drain. And that last scene with the plunger-that was hysterical. I thought it was a great way to leave things.”
“I’m not so sure,” says Peter, and now they begin the shift, the move into what’s not working. “The ending felt unfinished for me. We get that Tom’s obsession has reached a dangerous point, and his wife, at least, sees this as well-but then what happens? Everything’s been built up so much that to leave it hanging feels like a cheat. And I didn’t like the plunger-I thought that was cheap, a bit slapstick.”
“What if he went down the drain?” Darcy asks. “It’s already a bit fantastical-maybe that could work. Then Tom is making some type of action at the end of the piece, and we still don’t know what’s waiting at the bottom, so it still has that nice ambiguity.”
“Maybe,” says Peter, without waiting for anyone else to speak. “I still think it calls for something larger.”
Rosa sinks back into “Mornings”. Dilly, as it turns out, is new to the area, a recent Irish immigrant to Vancouver’s bustling shores. He drinks the beer and eats the grocery store hors d’oeuvres and lies on his floor until two in the morning, listening to Jimi Hendrix. Then, seized by a sudden hot dog craving, he saunters out into the town and proceeds to sample the nightlife of Vancouver.
It is, so far, a good story. Aylish’s prose has a natural rhythm and there’s a lilt to the language of the story, much like the soft burr in Aylish’s voice. But Rosa is only half-reading, half-appreciating. They finish the first workshop and hand their drafts back to Simone, the author, who looks quietly pleased because as far as workshops go, hers could have been a great deal worse. Rosa thinks back to her first story and tries, unsuccessfully, to squash her envy.
The novel does suffer from a handful of sections where additional editing would have helped. It’s not that large swaths needed to be cut, but some deletions would have been helpful. I also never got a great sense of place – particularly in Victoria. Conversely, I thought the trip home to Ontario was a well-written part of the book. The setting and mood in rural Ontario was great. But Leduc’s Victoria is relatively nondescript and disappointing in most ways. I also found her foreshadowing techniques to be heavy-handed. While I commend the author for not tying up every loose narrative strand, some of the plot was predictable dozens of pages prior to it unfolding. Foreshadowing is a good technique, but there was more foretelling versus hint or suggestion in a number of sections. Finally, it will be interesting to see how Leduc manages characters in her next novel that both she and readers dislike. Part of this might reflect her worldview, but not every character should have redeeming qualities; although it would make life much easier and enjoyable.
While there are some weaknesses, Amanda Leduc’s debut novel is well worth a read. Character development is an obvious strength and as she moves to new themes and topics as her writing matures, this will serve her well. At different turns, the book is poignant, without being sentimental, and very funny. Humour is not easy for many writers, but is absolutely no problem for Leduc. I also like that not everything is reconciled by the novel’s close – readers can make personal inferences based on previous action.
This novel is suitable for readers in their mid-teens and older. It could serve as an important gateway for young readers exploring their sexuality, moving away from home for the first time, or, most importantly, seeking a good read. The transition to books beyond debuts is not smooth for all writers, but I will be surprised if Leduc does not come out with a wonderful effort for readers in 2013.
*An electronic copy of Instructions for an Inexperienced Lover was sent to me to read and review. It was not purchased.