Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reading Journal: Off Book, by Mark Sampson (2007)

A world-beating debut that must have some truth in it, about a young writer named Cameron from rural Nova Scotia who attends King's College (Halifax) then moves to an unnamed prairie city, where instead of following his passion and writing plays, he begins crunching code for a web start up. Sampson himself, from Prince Edward Island - where one of Cameron's girlfriends comes from, one whose home we visit in the novel - attended King's, then the University of Manitoba (in Winnipeg). What he has produced here is a seeming hybrid of the academic novel and the bildungsroman, in which he often lays bare the device, referencing the process of writing frequently as well as the coming-of-age archetypes. The novel, the last book now-defunct Norwood Publishing produced, has a quite a few editing errors - spelling, doubled words, missing indents, tense errors - but the story is nevertheless profluent, and stocked with believable characters. It's over 360 pages long and tightly packed, and though I was working through several other books at the time, I kept wanting to come back to this one. Engaging story in functional - if occasionally a touch stiff - prose that reads quickly, but that also makes you think, as you recognize the types Sampson is employing to tell this ambitious story and discover the Kroetsch-ian leanings of the style the writer character develops. I really enjoyed it, and I'm looking forward to his next novel, Sad Peninsula, from which The Quint, (University College of the North, Thompson, MB), has published an excerpt that you can read here.

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