The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams
This is a difficult book to review. A fictionalized life of Joey Smallwood, the last Father of Confederation in Canada, it has much merit, but also some significant weaknesses.
The story is told mostly in the first person, by either Smallwood (the main narrator) or by his friend and rival Sheilagh Fielding, in her journal entries. It follows Joey’s life from his boyhood in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to the aftermath of Confederation in the 1950s and beyond.
The writing itself is very good. Johnston knows how to hook and involve the reader, and I admit to being pulled in from page one. His descriptions are wonderful. Though I’ve never been to St. Johns, I could taste the salt air and feel the damp chill of an Atlantic fog. Despite the use of the first person, I felt I knew the secondary characters as well, so skillfully were they depicted. Smallwood’s father stands out in particular. The plot progresses nicely for the first half of the book then bogs down in the middle before building steam towards the end.
Smallwood is a fascinating character, but not an entirely likeable one. Also, some readers may find that while Fielding’s journal entries, newspaper columns, and letters add depth to the story, they interrupt the pace of the main narrative.
The ending is the biggest disappointment of all. Rather than tying up loose ends, it left me wondering if I was missing a chapter. An Author’s Note explaining that Fielding was fictional would have been a good idea – I only learned this by cruising the Internet for background information.
Lest you think I either disliked this book or would not recommend it, this is untrue. Despite the structural problems and the less than stellar ending, it is well worth picking up. The 500-odd pages passed quickly for the most part and proved an enjoyable way to brush up on an oft-overlooked area of Canadian and Newfoundland history.