on August 25, 2006
Todd Babiak brings forth a great many memories and emotions in his novel "The Garneau Block". As in a musician's score, the voices of Alberta blend together into a lyrical and entertaining whole.
Like a modern day griot he spins forth a convincing local history but adds a few ideas of his own to make it more entertaining.
When you listen to Bach, Beethoven or any of the great composers who can write a piece of music that gives you something new and something different everytime you listen to it, then you have an idea of the multiple threads running through "The Garneau Block".
With "The Garneau Block" there's a thread of melancholy, tragedy, the whimsical, the satirical, a sense of yearning, a nod to the past and a look to the future that weave together into an intriguing tapestry.
With great music you can listen to the piece as a whole where all the instruments and moods blend into one. You can isolate elements, the strings, the percussion, woodwinds and brass, and discover something hitherto unknown. In this way "The Garneau Block" proves to be a book that affects its audience like a great piece of music. Sometimes it takes years of listening to a piece before you are enlightened to a certain element of it. In some cases I've had to experience life and mature and then a piece speaks to me differently.
I love that music plays a big part in The Garneau Block. When I walked into Manulife Tower with the characters I had to go over to my computer and download the Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour songs mentioned to see what mood was there. Listening to the lyrics I see they identify quite well with lyricism of the novel. Those French singers really know how to capture mood in a song.
There are many "local" elements that resonate as well. When the
performance artist at 38 Manulife Place starts spouting Brion Gysonesque type poetry, I thought that was appropos. One can disect and project but Gyson was yet another person who could never come to terms with the good experiences of his Edmonton years: they shaped his writing and his view on life whether he liked to say so or not [ed's note: please read John Geiger's book "Nothing is True - Everything is Permitted" - it's quite good].
I just want to say "bravo". I was mentioning to a friend that the appeal of the book is broader than just an audience who knows Edmonton, it's for an audience who knows people. An audience who can identify with situations, see their friends, their family or themselves in the characters and nod knowingly at it all. Edmonton and Alberta as the setting are just grace notes on a wonderful compostion.