He can gossip, but not write


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Boldface Names

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/09/2009 (4768 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Boldface Names

A Novel

By Shinan Govani

HarperCollins, 232 pages, $20


TWO sentences into his debut novel, you know that National Post gossip columnist Shinan Govani should stick with his day job.

Here’s the opener: "Exactly three months to the day they got married, Ravi and Rory consummated their union."

OK, but here’s the second:

" ‘I’m so sorry it took so long,’ Ravi told his wife of approximately 90 days after enacting their breathless and incontrovertible answer to the Terry Fox Run."

Bad enough is the clumsy repetition of the time reference, but comparing honeymoon sex to a cancer marathon? Even old-married sex is better than that.

Boldface Names, a sloppy and self-aggrandizing roman à clef about the prowlings of a Toronto gossip columnist, offers incontrovertible proof of an author who can neither write nor think.

Amusingly, Govani has the temerity to invoke as his model Evelyn Waugh, one of the great English-language stylists. A copy of Waugh’s 1930 classic about British high society, Vile Bodies, falls off Ravi’s night table on page 2.

"Isn’t this the one with the Bright Young Things and the gossip columnist?" Govani has the wife ask Ravi in case we miss the point.

" ‘I think I prefer the term social archivist,’ " he devil-may-cared."

He "devil-may-cared"? Twisting inappropriate words into attributive verbs, which Govani does as often as he over-explains his jokes, is a sign of tone-deafness, not post-modern cuteness:

" ‘Can I get you a coffee?’ punctuated a waiter." (Forget the waiter; punctuate the writer!)

Ethnically East Indian, vertically challenged and drop-dead witty (just like his creator on all three counts, no doubt), Ravi spends the novel going from party to party, trolling for column material among the chattering classes.

At one event, he spots "a woman who looked like local neo-hippie songbird Feist but was actually a woman with bangs who only looked like Feist."

Ugh. Forty pages later, on another night, at another event, Ravi sees "a woman who looked like local neo-hippie songbird Feist but could only really be Feist if Feist were Asian."

The same woman? Or just evidence of a lazy writer with a Feist fixation?

Sometimes Govani introduces real people, for instance, David Cronenberg and Lorne Michaels, "the father of Saturday Night Live and Canadian comic genius" (such journalese is his forté).

Other times, for reasons unclear, he coyly disguises those whose fabulous names he drops. Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel have minor roles as "Lord and Lady Ivory"; Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae make cameos as "two boldface politicians — one snowy-haired, one not."

The plot, such as it is, has Ravi squiring around a starlet who might have a connection to acting twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, a story so big even the New York Post‘s famous Page Six editor calls him about it.

Given that the Olsens made their last movie together in 2004 — and Mary-Kate’s various tabloid traumas go unmentioned — you can guess how long this supposedly up-to-the-minute novel had been sitting on slushpiles.

At least yesterday’s newspaper makes decent fishwrap.


Arts columnist Morley Walker edits the Free Press books section.


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