The late Timothy Findley wrote a wide range of novels. The Wars tells the tale of a Canadian soldier who loses his mind during World War I. Famous Last Words presents a fictional character’s conspiracy-theory version of World War II. Among his most extraordinary works ranks Not Wanted on the Voyage, a postmodern fantasy that retells the story of the Biblical Deluge.
Your Sunday School Teacher likely wouldn’t approve.
Title: Not Wanted on the Voyage
Author: Timothy Findley
Original Publication Date: 1984
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Yaweh– not here, any God you might worship, but a very human wizard– condemns the world to perish in a Flood. Only his servant, the Mengelean Noah Noyes, his fractured family, and select animals will survive. This is not so much fantasy as postmodern fable; Mrs Noyes sings twentieth-century pop songs while drinking gin, Noah’s sea-lore derives from the Great Age of Sail, and the sheep intone Latin chants. Findley the storyteller shapes the world as he sees fit– and he makes it believable.
I think the book makes very clear that it attacks the God we’ve made in our image– but nevertheless some religious sensibilities will find this book intolerable.
1. The fact that Findley makes his bizarre world believable, and sustains his satire throughout the novel.
2. The handling of Mottyl, Mrs. Noyes’s talking cat.
Fables, by their nature, are didactic. On occasion, Findley becomes a too obvious, a little more strident than he needs to be.
Originality: 5/6 Yes, it retells a tale that has been around for a good while, but Findley’s version of events proves radically original. The world he creates seems fantastic, with its dog-sized unicorns, web-fingered angels, and fire-farting demons, but the feelings of the characters and problems that plague them recall ours, humorously and tragically.
Characterization: 5/6. The Wars delves more deeply into the human psyche, but this novel is a fable, of sorts, and its characters are simplified. They prove memorable, however– and few writers can successfully present a sentient cat in heat as a narrative center. Mrs. Noyes, meanwhile, ranks among the most interesting old ladies in fiction, and Findley delivers a highly original devil.
Imagery: 6/6 Sheep singing Latin hymns, multicoloured storms, and the reason why Japeth turned blue– this book delivers stunning imagery. The manner in which Emma is finally made ready for her husband, meanwhile, should chill you.
Emotional Response: 6/6 Findley’s book rages against autocracy, tyranny, religious fanaticism, discrimination– and he makes he makes his readers sympathize. At turns funny and disturbing, Not Wanted on the Voyage remains one of my favourite books.
Overall Score: 6/6.
In total, Not Wanted on the Voyage receives 39/42
Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in Ten and a half Chapters makes a good read, but the first of those chapters seemingly plagiarizes this book. Findley wanted to sue, but felt it would merely give more attention to Barnes’ book.
Surely there were some high points . . .
This book sounds interesting to me. Since I’ve read basically every Terry Pratchett book multiple times now, it’s probably time for me to look for another author to glob on to for a few months.
Re: High Points?
I can’t believe they got left out of the post. Thanks.
I recommend the three books mentioned in my introduction to begin. His last few novels, IMHO, were not as strong as his earlier work.
Not directly related to the book in question, but if you like Not Wanted on this Voyage, I would also recommend A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes. Three of the chapters — ‘The Stowaway’, ‘The Mountain’ and ‘Project Ararat’ — are directly related to the Biblical story of Noah. My favorite of the three is ‘The Stowaway,’ which tells the story of a creature that stowed away on the ark and later escaped undetected. The narrator of the story reveals some qualities of pious old Noah that would make a fundie’s head spin. For example:
Thanks for the link. The similarity was why I noted the Barnes book in the review– and also the fact that Findley really wanted to sue.
Whooops! Then I guess my comment was directly related. I can’t believe I missed that the first time I read your review. Oh well, sorry about that.
As much as I liked ‘The Stowaway,’ my favorite chapter was probably ‘Paranthesis.’ It just has the absolute best passage on love. Well, more specifically, it’s only the first 5 or 6 paragraphs of that chapter that comprise the treatise .
Excerpt: “Let me tell you something about her. It’s that middle of the night stretch, when the curtains leak no light…She’s lying on her side, turned away from me. I can’t see her in the dark, but from the hushed swell of her breathing I could draw you a map of her body…”