You might say that winning the Governor General's Award is enough to recommend "Whale Music," but when books win awards like this it makes people think of them as dry and somehow... literary. This book is "literary," but it is also compellingly readable, delightfully entertaining, the kind of book you spill coffee on in the morning because you can't wait to get back to it. It has a sense of humour as well as a sense of a deeper meaning--as in other Quarrington novels, each one requires the other.
The story takes place in the California mansion of the "Whale Man:" Des Howell, former member of the "Howell Brothers," one half of which team has recently died. Des is having a hard time adjusting to his brother's death. He is also in a continuously drunk, drugged and mentally unstable condition, which is made more precarious by the persistent invasion of undersirables such as his mother, reporters, record executives--people squeezing out more money and forcing the obese, hermitic Whale Man to blockade his house to avoid institutionalization. The one thing which keeps Des focused is in composing the dreamlike Whale Music which he will use to summon the whales. One day he wakes up to find a guest: Claire, "the naked alien from the far-off planet of Toronto." She has come to him for personal reasons and also because she believes in him, without recompense.
Quarrington borrows the events from the real life of a former member of the Beach Boys who became a recluse and drug addict in similar circumsances, but reality and fiction are woven together so expertly, like music weaving its way into silence, that it just becomes part of the joke, a device which he employs. To the Whale Man, music is an ethereal being with a spirit all its own... "The music ends, that is to say, it disappears forever to journey in the cosmos." The book is written in the present tense and frequently addresses the reader, inviting you in to make you feel like part of the story. This time, however, he has discarded the sporting subject matter of his two previous novels, "King Leary" and "Home Game," for that of music, clearly another area of expertise.
Desmond Howell's self-declared philosophy is a twisted kind of existentialism: "The most one can do is try to produce some pitiful piece of prettiness, a song, and send it out into the world, a cripple dressed in rags." If this is Paul Quarrington's philosophy as well, then this is his fifth such song, a wonderful one, and I look forward to reading them all.