The Incident Report Paperback – Apr 27 2009
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Quill & Quire
As its title suggests, Martha Baillie’s fourth novel consists of a series of “incident reports” written by Miriam Gordon, a 35-year-old employee of the Toronto Public Library. Miriam is a “Public Service Assistant” at Allan Gardens Library, a fictional branch located in a real Toronto neighbourhood notorious for the socio-economic disparity of its residents. Highly sensitive and startlingly observant, Miriam thankfully takes liberties with the stylistic limitations of her reports. Though many describe daily interactions with library patrons, these are interspersed with accounts of her personal life, in particular a burgeoning romance with Janko, an émigré painter turned cabbie, as well as memories of a troubled childhood dominated by an eccentrically bookish and emotionally unstable father. “Intensified efficiency,” Miriam recalls, was the method by which her mother dealt with her father’s erratic behaviour. It seems that Miriam herself has internalized her mother’s coping mechanism and made it the basis of her vocation. Whether she is assisting children in assembling a seven-foot paper dragon, disposing of semen-soiled books on Middle Eastern politics, or helping a patron identify a certain 16th-century Italian portraitist, her professional interactions are governed strictly by the library’s rules and regulations. When these regulations are challenged – as they frequently are – she resorts to conduct prescribed by the “Manual of Conduct for Encounters with Difficult Patrons.” Miriam’s reports chronicle her professional interactions with harmless eccentrics, young families, students, and also an alarming number of patrons who are inebriated, abusive, and mentally unstable. The reader can’t help but be endeared to Miriam as her affectless description of the abuses and indignities she endures is paired with her acute sensitivity to the minutiae of daily existence. The private and the professional realms overlap when Miriam discovers a series of notes penned by a mysterious patron, who believes himself to be a character in a Verdi opera linked to Miriam’s early childhood memories. Unfortunately, this plot device feels contrived and is not as effective as the less overtly mysterious aspects of the narrative. In spite of this minor shortcoming, Baillie’s novel contains real tenderness, rendered in beautiful prose with compelling restraint.
About the Author
Martha Baillie was born in Toronto. After studies at the University of Edinburgh and the Sorbonne in Paris, she returned to Toronto where she continued her studies at the University of Toronto, and for a time trained as an actor. It was following a year of extensive travel in Asia in 1982 that Baillie began writing, and had her first poems and a novel published. She is the author of three previous novels, and has been published in Canada, Germany and Hungary. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Descant, Prairie Fire and the Antigonish Review. The Legacy of Joseph Wagenbach, was published by Brick in 2007. Her manuscript-based sculptural installation, Core Sample, has been shown in the Sidespace Gallery and the Type Books basement gallery. She has worked part time for the Toronto Public Library in branches throughout the city, for close to twenty years. Baillie is a bilingual storyteller (English/French) who has told in schools around the city and at the Toronto International Storytelling Festival.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
and when one does the librarian in charge
is required to fill out the necessary forms..."
In a Toronto public library, 35-year-old clerk Miriam Gordon extends this documentary practice beyond events that occur in the course of her work to events in her life generally. Through a series of 144 spare vignettes -- some a mere fragment, some a couple of pages, many almost poetic -- she documents her interactions with patrons and co-workers, her lunch hours on a bench in a nearby park, a new romance. Some serve as springboards to poignant memories from her childhood; some coalesce to develop a mysterious and compelling thread referencing Rigoletto and Satie. Together, the patrons -- eclectic, demented, dangerous -- highlight how open and exposed a public library is. The ending is resonant yet ambiguous, and when I returned to reread earlier passages even previous clarity took on ambiguity! Recommended.
Author Mariam Baillie tells the story of Miriam, a public librarian in the city of Toronto. Miriam tells her personal and work story through about 140 "incident reports" in which she records her interactions with patrons. Some of the incidents are humorous while others are disturbing or heart-warming. As the novel progresses, Miriam begins recording certain "incidents" in her personal life and the reader gets a glimpse into Miriam as a person.
Miriam's reports are fragmented, which is symbolic of human interactions in today's cities. Despite the situation, every entry is beautifully written and poetic. A reader could easily fly through this novel in a matter of hours but a true lover of literature will want to savor each of these "reports" and look forward to a second and third read.
I heard that many of the incidents involving patrons actually 'happened' in the Toronto public library system - adding realism to the proponent's life at the desk.
I really liked this book, gave copies to friends, and can't wait to read her next novel, which I gather is just being published and is very different.
The Incident Report is a list of reports filed by librarians about disturbing activities in the library.
And that's it. That's the whole plot.
What do you think?
I'm a librarian, so I might be more interested than most people in stories centered around library problems, but I think it's a cool enough idea that you will like it, too.