Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/10/2011 (1950 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
By David Davidar
McClelland & Stewart, 276 pages, $30
THIS novel opens with a beautiful description of a plane landing in Bhutan: "It is the most dramatic flight path in the world."
Unfortunately, that is the high point of any drama in this elegantly written flight into the world of international publishing.
There is certainly a lot here for those who know that world. Ithaca has the feel of a gossipy, if overblown, magazine article, with the names discreetly changed. But it is hard going for anyone who doesn't know the players in it first hand.
Author David Davidar, who has two well-reviewed novels to his credit, certainly knows them. The former publisher of Penguin Canada, he fled Toronto in 2010 after a female employee accused him of sexual harassment. This new novel examines another kind of publishing scandal.
The plot details the adventures of a Davidar-like protagonist, Zach Thomas, Indian-born and London-based senior editor of Litmus Publishing.
Zach's meal ticket is Massimo Seppi, an Italian settled in Toronto, who has written a series of books about the great archangels that become, a la Harry Potter or Twilight, an industry making piles of money for the publisher. We are assured that Seppi's writing is artistic, not just commercial, a kind of dirty word for Zach.
Even he recognizes, though, that such an author will save the now over-extended Litmus from being swallowed by Globish, a giant multinational. Unfortunately Seppi has died, but his dour translator completes a translation of his last book just in time.
Unfortunately, it's been copied mainly from a forgotten author. The plagiarism is revealed, though Zach remains innocent of wrongdoing. In any case, Globish gets it what it wants, and the world moves on.
This should be more interesting than it sounds. But it isn't since Davidar seems more concerned with Zach's feeble existential difficulty of how he lost his love of reading and became only a businessman.
Zach, by the way, hates Toronto, and most of the people in the business he meets there. Furthermore, he is worried whether traditional publishers, and their editors, are needed in the brave new world of digital publishing. He is consistently told by aged publishers he respects, at inordinate length, they will be.
He even has an epiphany in a later chapter that links the first storytelling that people engaged in down the ages to today's world of books and their distribution. This isn't the only pretentious conceit in the novel.
At the Frankfurt book fair, he opines. "What other business can even begin to compare with publishing, its richness, its variety, and its place at the very core of humanity's cultural soul." Sure.
However, isn't that the same kind of sentiment expressed at the Oscars about film? For that matter, Zach's angel author would probably be more celebrated in the pop cult of Comic Con gatherings than book clubs.
The title comes from Greek poet C.P. Cavafy's great poem on the journey of the soul. Zach is always travelling, feels himself rootless, but like every idea in the book except the editor's place in the industry, if that is an idea, it is sketchily conceived.
No moral reflection is necessary for Zach, and none is given by Davidar. The journey Zach seems to enjoy most is to the bar of the Marriott in whatever town he is in.
Rory Runnells is artistic director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights.