Bursey doesn’t filibuster in Verbatim


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2010 (4418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


A Novel

By Jeff Bursey

Enfield & Wizenty, 304 pages, $30

CHARLES de Gaulle once remarked that politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians.

Newfoundland-born writer Jeff Bursey seems to agree: He gets right down to political brass tacks in his eccentric, sometimes ingenious debut novel.

Bursey is dealing with expansive ideas — how democracies work (or don’t) — but he’s operating within a narrow stylistic framework.

Focusing on the political process of an unnamed Atlantic province during the 1990s, the novel consists entirely of excerpts from the Hansard record of the legislative proceedings, set out in double-column format, along with memos and letters sent by Hansard staff and the Clerk and Speaker of the House.

Based in Charlottetown, Bursey works as a Hansard editor for the provincial legislature, so he’s well placed to satirize the political milieu. (The novel is published by the literary imprint of Winnipeg’s Great Plains Publications.)

In Bursey’s fictionalized House, democratic ideals are derailed by greed, ambition and vanity, as the smug right-leaning Social Progressive government fusses and feuds with the chippy left-wing Alliance Party across the floor.

Both parties spend more time bickering and fault-finding than they do working on their constituents’ pressing social and economic problems, which include impoverished rural areas, a stressed-out health-care system and a mining mega-project with a dodgy environmental and safety record.

There are subtle hints of financial corruption, a sex scandal — what was that one member up to during summer recess? — possible election tampering, threatened violence and death.

Meanwhile, the bureaucrats in the Hansard branch are mimicking the politicians they record. A new manager, HF, is trying to reconcile his warring chief editors, who are known only by the initials with which they sign their comically snippy memos

HF is a traditionalist who stands on the dignity of the house and resists transcribing what he calls “gutter language.” (” ‘Gotcha,’ a favourite expression of one of the new members, does not deserve a place in Hansard,” he carps.) DO is a modernizer who likes casual diction and is a bit iffy with punctuation.

Bursey is clearly playing around with literary paradox, exploring the relationship between text and truth. His narrative rests on the Hansard record, while simultaneously questioning the accuracy of that record.

Bursey isn’t replicating the actual Hansard — there is, mercifully, no filibustering. But in order to maintain his acute sense of realism, he deals at some length with things like “An Act to Amend Certain Provisions of the Federal-Provincial Employment Insurance Act.”

The average voter might not want that much detail.

Winnipeg journalist Alison Gillmor writes on pop culture for the Free Press.

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Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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