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In The Watch That Ends the Night, the last of Hugh MacLennan's major novels (it earned him his fifth Governor General's Award), the unruliness that was always part of his epic vision has become particularly noticeable. MacLennan's usual mélange of intellectualism and melodrama is still immediately recognizable, but The Watch That Ends the Night rambles in ways that his earlier books do not, through passages of Dickensian pastiche and even what appears to be a tinny mimicry of the private school from Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. Narrator George Stewart, a moderately charming, self-justifying, and privately meek radio commentator, is married to Catherine, a passionate but chronically ill woman. Though George and Catherine were teenage sweethearts, they only married after Catherine's first husband, Jerome Martell, disappeared while fighting with the French Resistance in the Second World War.
Martell, however, is not dead, and he returns to Montreal, upsetting the mild domestic stability of the Stewarts. MacLennan sets up Martell as a flamboyant, doomed hybrid of Christ, Odysseus, and Doctor Norman Bethune, and The Watch That Ends the Night is really Martell's book--recounting his checkered Canadian career and the forces that sent him to the trenches in the First World War, to aid the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, and to incarceration and forced labour in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and China. The Watch That Ends the Night is among MacLennan's most politically sophisticated books, and it makes an interesting counterpoint to Two Solitudes. Curious readers who are unfamiliar with MacLennan will be much better served, though, by the much more readable Barometer Rising. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
The Watch That Ends the Night is a novel of affirmation ... The vanity of human wishes, death itself, are part of the mystery to be loved ... I would not trade MacLennan for a legion of beatniks or a whole flotilla-full of angry young men. Queen's Quarterly --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See all Product Description