Tuesday, November 22, 2011

That's Me In The Middle

That's Me In The Middle
Donald Jack

I'd never heard of Bartholomew Bandy or the Bandy Papers Series until a friend of mine emailed me about it a few months back. He had read my blog post about Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser and asked whether I had ever read the aforementioned series. When I mentioned that I hadn't even heard of this seminal Canadian series, he was aghast enough to have two of the three in the series shipped from Victoria to Taiwan post-haste.

I started on book two (My friend couldn't find the first book in the series) and although Donald Jack presupposes that you are familiar with the characters prior to opening this book, it is not all that hard to catch up.

Bartholomew Bandy is part Yossarian, part Mr. Bean, part Forrest Gump and part... well, yes, Flashman (without the libidinous side, of course). The novel is a classic comedy of errors in which Bandy finds himself in all sorts of Jack Tripper-esque situations. There are dozens of mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and well-timed quips, asides, and comebacks. Bandy himself is a naive colonial whose entire service in the British military during World War I is a continuous series of train wrecks that somehow find our hero as a pilot for the burgeoning RAF, promoted to colonel, demoted back to the front, decorated as a war hero and then married.

While the entire book is well-paced and fun to read I was especially enamored with the insanely innocent and maddeningly stupid bedroom romps. the first involves Bandy, his fiancee, an over-zealous widow, a disgraced Russian diplomat and the wife of a government official and plays out like Frazier on steroids. The second (and far more entertaining) is Bandy's wedding night, where his innocence and gentlemanly manners culminate in one if the most hysterical incidents in all of literature.

Aside from being a comedy of errors, That's Me In The Middle is also historical fiction and what sort of historical fiction is complete without the hero encountering a historical figure of two. Bandy encounters both future Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson and Winston Churchill during his escapades. He advises the former to avoid a career in politics and inspires the latter. All with side-splitting results, of course.

For those interested in obscure Canadian book series' from the 1960s or anyone, anywhere that like these sorts of comedies, That's Me In The Middle is a fine choice. Like I said, I haven't read the first in the series, but I have the third and intend to read it very soon. Donald Jack seems to be a forgotten Canadian treasure and worth rediscovering if you, like me, have never heard of him.

Finally, seeing as this is a Canadian novel, I must put it to the Canadian Literature test. My scientific scale measure Canadian-ness to a very clinical degree. The unit I use is the hip (named after a certain obscure Kingston band) and Canadiana is measured on a scale from 0 through 12 (0 being a Hindu Veda and 12 meaning the book was printed on a hockey puck). Let's see:

1. Novel set between 1900~1945.

Yes. The novel takes place entirely in the span of 1917. Score 1.5 hips.

2. Novel is set in/on a small town/island/northern settlement.

Although none of the novel takes place in Canada proper, there are small towns, islands and northern settlements featured in the book. Score 1 hip.

3. Novel involves a strong/complicated/deranged female protagonist on a journey of self-identification.

Actually, no. the only significant female character is Katherine who seems to have her shit together. Score 0 hip.

4. Novel involves one or more conservative/despicable/sexually deviant men.

Of course. Score 1 hip.

5. Story involves one or more hard-boiled sidekicks.

Yes. Score 1 hip.

6. Story involves an unwanted pregnancy/abortion/infant mortality.

This is a comedy so of course not. Score 0 hip.

7. Story mentions the Dionne quintuplets/Edward's abdication/Vimy Ridge.

Vimy Ridge! Check! 1 hip.

8. Story involves a major snowstorm.

No. Score 0 hip.

9. Story contains mild to overt anti-Americanism.

Yes. My favorite example (and I'm paraphrasing) is that America is still a British colony because any colony willing to go to war over tea is still in the fold. Score 2 hips.

10. Story explores multiculturalism.

Russians, French and Irish Republicans? Why not? Score 1 hip.

11. Story contains mild to overt anti-Religion themes.

Yes. Score 1 hip.

Final score: 9.5 on a scale of 12. That's Me In The Middle is definitely a Canadian novel. While not hockey puck material, this book would have no problem locating Medicine Hat on a map. Steven Leacock would be proud.


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