Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yellowknife - Steve Zipp

Usually I recap the plot of a book before telling you my thoughts. In the case of Yellowknife by Steve Zipp, I don't think I could do it justice. So I am reprinting the back cover blurb from the publisher Res Telluris.

"Welcome to the Mysterious North

The time is 1998. The millennium looms. Yellowknife, capital of one-third of Canada and home to beasts and bureaucrats, is about to become a player in the world diamond market.

People come here for the damndest reasons. Something to do with the North Pole, maybe. It attracts them, I think. Like, there's metal filings in their heads or something.

A penniless drifter, a business man obsessed by bones, an artist with a baseball bat, a fallen academic who lives at the dump, a biologist with a son named after a fungus, a native man older than Canada, a Mounty with a jaw of steel."

And those are just a few of the unorthodox characters found in this book. There are many players and just when you've totally invested in their story, the plot quickly veers to another inhabitant and their life. There are mysterious and unseen connections between all the stories though, providing many ah ha! moments as someone pops back in unexpectedly. The story is a rambling discourse on the diamond trade, the inhabitants, the traditional way of life, the modern way of life and the time leading up to the creation of Nunavut. It is a sardonic look at the government and it's machinations as well.

Many times I felt like Alice down the Rabbit Hole (indeed there are tunnels leading to the oddest places in Yellowknife.) Other times I felt like the Trickster had written the entire book for his personal enjoyment. Tricksters appear in many cultures - in the North, one of those is the raven. Ravens are scattered throughout the novel and indeed one character believes he was raised by ravens. Who says he wasn't?

Although I am Canadian, Zipp is describing a part of Canada I've never visited and don't know too much about. Has he taken great literary license? I honestly don't know, but I was so caught up in this tale, it really didn't matter. I prefer to think of the Trickster at work.

Yellowknife has been long listed on the National Post's Canada Also Reads.

Steve Zipp's blog.


Sandra said...

I have a copy of Yellowknife and intent to read it for the Canadian Reading Challenge 3. I saw that it was on the Canada Also Reads. Glad you liked it and glad it's getting some attention. Thanks for reviewing it.

Sophia (FV) said...

Sounds like your really enjoyed this. Nice review. :)

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like there's a lot going on it that book. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

B.Kienapple said...

I visited Yellowknife a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. It's such an isolated but totally unique place. Glad you put this book on my radar!

Kathleen said...

I read this a few years ago for the Canadian Reading Challenge 1. I thought it was pretty good but a little too strange for me. Too many characters, I kept getting confused.

Melwyk said...

I agree, there were times when it felt like Alice-in-Wonderland while reading this. But I really enjoyed it, and found parts of it really funny as well. I hope it gets a little more attention as it has appeared on the Canada Also Reads longlist - I heard of it through John's Canadian Reading Challenge, but I don't think I would noticed it otherwise.