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
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.