I went straight from reading The Birth House by Ami McKay to reading The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Both novels are Canadian, but the contrast between the two is striking and refreshing. From early twentieth-century rural Nova Scotia, I jumped into the twenty-first century world of politics in Ottawa.
I must say that this novel frightened me. I know very little about politics and I thought I would get lost, but I had heard it was funny and accessible, so I gave it a try. Let me tell you, it is accessible and you can enjoy it even if you do not have the slightest notion about politics. Although some of the political procedures confused me a bit, it did not affect my reading. And what a timely read it was, as Ireland is preparing for the next election!
The book is divided into two parts: pre- and post-elections, with a short introduction by the first-person narrator, Daniel Addison, to give the context of the story. The first part focuses on the campaign of Angus McLintock, an engineering professor of Scottish origins who is passionate about hovercraft and has recently lost his wife, the feminist Marin Lee. Angus has no chance of winning this election against the popular Tory candidate, Cameron, which is why he accepted to run as the Liberal candidate. Angus is not motivated by victory, but accepted Daniel’s deal in order to get out of teaching a course he detests. We are often repeated that politics can be unpredictable and thus expect that, against all odds, Angus will be elected. Indeed, a few days before the election, Cameron is caught with his chief of staff playing sexual games and loses the support of his electorate. Angus finds himself elected as the MP for Cumberland-Prescott, a role he did not wish for. In the second part of the novel, we follow his short stay in Parliament Hill, where his peculiar perspectives (Angus does not believe in power, but actually works for the good of the nation) shake the rules of politics.
The Best Laid Plans is an entertaining novel and small is the risk that you will find yourself bored while reading it. Although, some of its parts are predictable, there are enough twists to keep the reader interested. The novel is driven by its plot and many sub-plots; unfortunately, that might be slightly detrimental to the writing. I feel that the story could be tightened up and its ending seems a little bit rushed. I am not one who expects everything to be clearly resolved at the end of a story, but I found Fallis’s conclusion lacking, as if he had had enough and just wanted to finish the story quickly. That said, it remains a pleasant read.
It has been qualified as a political satire and will often make you laugh, but also wonder at how your country is ruled. And by “country”, I do not mean just Canada, but any democracy. It is therefore not a book that can be appreciated only by the Canadian public. Although it focuses on politics in Ottawa, it is relevant to any reader, I believe.
What I prefered in this book, and this might seem a little bit odd, is the incongruity of the relationships between the characters that populate the novel. How do such different characters happen to share the same journey? They all have their own eccentricities and seem to act like types, yet their paths meet and they end up sharing a little bit of their journey through life. I find this to be an accurate reflection of the variety that governs human relationships in modern life. I find this touching. Each character becomes attaching in his/her own way: the young speech-writer and teacher to be, Daniel, who befriends Muriel, an old lady who, despite having Parkinson, keeps being a fervent and active supporter of the liberal party; the two Petes, who despite their punk ideals become involved in the lost campaign without ever giving up; and, of course, Angus, the rough Scottish, grieving his deceased wife and dedicating his whole life to her (each chapter ends with Angus writing to Marin in his diary) while he builds up a strong friendship with young Daniel. I did like the characters a lot and, for me, they made the story.