A Colossal Exploration of a Canadian Literary Genius
Sherill Grace’s mammoth work on one of Canada’s greatest writers sets us on course for an exhaustive exploration, not only of Timothy Findley’s life, as the title indicates, but also into his creative mind, heart and spirit. Not easy to do when the subject is as complex and sensitive an artist as Findley, even if he has left traces of his genius, beyond his oeuvre, in many archives, journals and the memory of those who knew him well. Grace leads us deftly, with profound respect, into an examination of this creator, consistently framing her discoveries and conclusions with wholly supported evidence, nearly scientific in method. Grace’s book is a colossal work, not only enjoyable for the exactitude and comprehensiveness by which she recounts this most interesting man’s motivations, desires and fears, but also for her care taken to expose TIFF’s – as he was called by those close to him – achievements as well as failures, in both personal and professional realms.
In a sense, Findley’s life reads like a LeCarré suspense thriller, especially for those of us who love, or are at least familiar with, his literary achievements. We hold our breath as the years go by, awaiting the blossoming of his talent and the creation of those works we recognize, sharing in the agony he evidently carried deep in his heart along his creative journey, compulsively re-inventing himself until he struck authenticity. There’s something there for all of us, inspiration of the truest kind. Findley wrote and wrote until the words were not only right, but the spirit and time were right, and his humanist values resonated in his works. We learn through Grace’s book how similar Findley was to other Canadian greats like Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler, and Glenn Gould, to name only a few. Obsessive-compulsive, dedicated, devoted, driven, passionate, eccentric, lonely, dependent, moody, intense, insecure, loving and tragically flawed. These seem to be some of the qualities of Canadian genius.
For those familiar with Findley and his works, Grace’s book is a treasure trove of context and behind-the-scene details about the development of his works, both known and lesser known. We learn of his struggles with his sexual identify and drinking and embark with him on a quest for artistic merit, not only in the eyes of readers and audiences, but in his own view, as he was probably his own harshest critic. Grace methodically traces the evolution of Findley’s most important relationships, missing nothing, the book remaining enjoyable, even fascinating. Grace recounts Findley’s loves and losses, and the strong fear of death, that manifested itself in later years, with such empathy and clarity that we are drawn to feel Findley is someone we actually knew ourselves. Nothing could be more important to achieve in a biography of an accomplished artist, especially one of Findley’s stature, than to feel their aura, to sense their purpose in life and their quest for success on their own terms. Findley, in the end, lived and most importantly perhaps, created according to his own terms, seeking to have human, cultural and social impact, not just gather awards and recognition.
Sherril Grace deserves an important prize for this most wonderful book on one of Canada’s brightest-shining literary stars, one who created works such as The Wars, Famous Last Words, Not Wanted on the Voyage, and The Piano Man’s Daughter. As Grace begins her book, “I have returned to Stone Orchard, Timothy Findley’s home, many times over the years … each time learning more about the man who lived and wrote there… “ TIFF: A Life of Timothy Findley is a book I will return to many times, to remember how important it is to understand creative minds that have built our Canadian literary landscape. It was a pleasure and an honour to read this meaningful book.
To read an interview with Sherill Grace, click here.
- Hardcover : 540 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1771124539
- ISBN-13 : 978-1771124539
- Product Dimensions : 15.88 x 3.81 x 23.5 cm
- Publisher : Wilfrid Laurier University Press (Aug. 25 2020)
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Denis Coupal is a Canadian novelist and screenwriter. His first novel, BLINDSHOT, won GOLD in The Miramichi Reader’s 2020 Best first novel award, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada award for Best First Novel, and optioned by Entourage Television Group for development as a TV series.