The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard

To say I have not read anything like The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard would be a lie.
But, never have I read anything in the way that Ian Colford tells this story. Colford puts his unique and stellar writing skills into this dark tale of death, love, and mystery. Told in the fluent first-person voice of Joseph Blanchard, we learn about him as his confessions proceed. The book opens with a letter dated June 2018. The letter is written by a lawyer from Victoria, to the University Archivist, at Dalhousie University. In the lawyer’s possession, he claims, is a manuscript, garnered from his aunt. He has no idea how she happened upon it, and no idea who wrote it; there is only the title: The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard. This provides a mysterious set of circumstances. These first few pages set up the story. We find out much about the other players in this introduction, but who is Joeseph Blanchard? Flip the page to part one, chapter one, and find out from Joseph himself in this incredible telling.

As if the beginning letter wasn’t enough to seduce me, the first sentence from Joseph Blanchard glued me to his story:

How is it that my life, so recently a blessing, has become an intolerable burden?

We are whisked back into the 1970s, with Joseph, to find out what has happened to a promising young pianist, Sophie Alexandra Gebhardt, who passed away at the age of nineteen on September 26, 1971. Her parents were Frederick Gebhardt, a prominent Halifax physician, and his wife Pauline, a member of the Board of the Halifax Public Gardens. Joseph Blanchard is Pauline’s cousin and a welcome and frequent visitor to the Gebhardt household. He and Pauline grew up together, and Pauline adores and understands his odd personality. He is very much a “confirmed bachelor” pushing 40 years of age. A pivotal scene between Pauline’s daughter, 19-year-old Sophie, and Joseph is a spark that ignites a chain of events. This builds into a dark love story where Secrecy and Possession gain ground and become as if they are themselves characters.

The love affair between the main characters, Joseph and Sophie, may have been accepted and indeed suggested if we were living in times gone by, say Victorian days. But, in 1971, it was sure to cause a scandal of epic proportions. Ian Colford approaches this “torrid sexual relationship” with care and conviction. He is a confident writer with story, flow, and timing, and his sensual scenes are proof of his power to refuse categorization. Colford can create complex characters with deep emotional pull. He masterfully accomplishes the building of a tale that is so smooth, and so personal, that it will have you feeling as if you are dared to turn the pages. And turn them I did, with a great fury.

Colford was able, with Sophie, to completely capture the feel of her extraordinary talent as a concert pianist. Her passion for her art is palpable, and the descriptions of her musical choices made me listen only to classical piano music while reading. In Joseph, we see a multi-layered man with a narrow view of the world. He is revealed bit by bit, layer upon layer, built by Colford in increments, much like an intricately created painting, that blends all forms and shapes, until the final product emerges. The mystery, secrets, and telling had me residing in 1971 with Joseph Blanchard and his confessions, exclusively.

The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard is truly an original: a tangle of a story, perfectly executed, and completely captivating. It left me, on completion, returning immediately to the very beginning to re-read the letter from the lawyer to Dalhousie University. Colford has created a literary offering, a genre-jumping tour de force that is at the top of my list of reads for this year! It is a perfect choice for book discussions, book clubs, and writers’ classes. It is to be dissected and studied, but mostly, it is to be read well into the night. The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard is sure to become a Staff Pick at bookstores and a favourite among readers everywhere. Ian Colford is a writer at the top of his game. Don’t miss it!
Note: The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard won the 2023 Guernica Prize. The Guernica Prize recognizes the best literary fiction novel that pushes boundaries and is cutting-edge.

Ian Colford was born, raised and educated in Halifax. His reviews and stories have appeared in many print and online publications. He is the author of two collections of short fiction and two novels and is the recipient of the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award for Evidence.

  • 9781771838375
  • 260 pages
  • November 1, 2023

Managing Editor

TMR’s Managing Editor Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere.  She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.