I read The Girls Who Saw Everything based almost solely on Mr. Beattie’s recommendation, and was well rewarded. Dixon’s novel was playful and witty, absurd and serious, emotionally complex and fully engaged with literary culture (though not disconnected from how that culture is viewed from the outside). I was quite shocked then, to learn that Dixon is not primarily a writer of prose fiction, but rather a playwright and actor. Dixon seems quite at home in prose, and the book was a joy to read. Were it not for my inability to look away from the CBC’s coverage of the Olympics I would have finished this days ago, perhaps even on the day I began it.
The brilliantly named Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club is a collection of fascinating eccentrics, though their taste in literature is at times questionable (In the Skin of a Lion their favourite novel? For real? Such people are like albinos; you know they’re out there but you never expect to actually encounter one). The Lacuna Cabal doesn’t just read and discuss books, they go to extraordinary lengths to experience them (including kidnapping Irving Layton). And Emmy Jones! Well, you’d have to read it to believe it. I could not help but be reminded of Corey Redekop’s novel, Shelf Monkey, as I was reading this. I enjoyed Shelf Monkey, despite Redekop’s considerable stylistic debt to Jim Munroe, but it felt like it was always falling just short of its potential. I won’t say that The Girls Who Saw Everything was the book that Shelf Monkey should have been (that’s ridiculous), but it is the book that I had hoped it would be. The similarities are plain, I think. The major thrust of the plot in each centres on a cult-like book club that takes its activities one or two steps beyond the rational, with consequences both disastrous and glorious, and both books engage Canadian literary culture with genuinely entertaining results. Dixon’s novel seems the more mature effort, however. When I used to play music in front of audiences (a rarity, but it happened), the best piece of advice I was given was to play through the mistakes, and never give any indication that I was anything other than supremely confident in my abilities; that alone was enough to hide all but the grossest of errors. The Girls Who Saw Everything moves with that sort of confidence, and Shelf Monkey, fine novel though it is, did not.
Since the most useful part of this post was most likely my linking to Mr. Beattie’s review, I will close by saying that The Girls Who Saw Everything was my sixth selection for the Second Canadian Book Challenge. Next up is Red Plaid Shirt, by Diane Schoemperlen.