Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

I had a rocky start with this book. The author clearly knows politics, but much less about academia - or at least, current academia. The idea that the protagonist was approached about a tenure track appointment a couple of months before the book began, and that the position was still open, and there weren't a stack of CVs from people applying for that job, that the protagonist could just call his old prof and waltz into a tenure-track job? Well, I don't know what the academic job market used to look like, but it doesn't look like that now!

There were a few fumbles like this, and they were driving me crazy. And the start of the book was not that funny, and not that engaging, and I was trying really hard to like it, because I do like reading about politics, when it's well done.

Gradually, though, gradually, I started to care about the characters, and to care about what was going on, and what would happen, and although I never really found this book funny, I did eventually find it absorbing.

Daniel Addison is a former staffer for the Liberal Leader (his party is the present Opposition in this book), who flees Parliament Hill for a tenure-track appointment in English. The cost of his exit? He needs to find and run a candidate in the safest Conservative riding in the country. Muriel Parkinson, the wonderful senior citizen who put herself on the line five times previously will help with the campaign, but not take on the candidacy. (Muriel was probably my favourite character.) Daniel finally strikes a deal with his landlord, engineering professor Angus McLintock. Angus agrees to run, on the presumption that he doesn't have to do anything for the campaign, and will definitely lose. In return, Daniel will teach the English for Engineers course with which he's been afflicted.

(That was another one - English departments run English for non-English major courses all the time. They are not normally taught by the engineering faculty.)

The book makes it sound like it's all about the campaign, but as far as I'm concerned that half of the book is much slower than the second half, which deals with what happens after the impossible happens, and Angus gets elected. (I don't think I'm spoiling here - that outcome seems implied in the description of the book.) Angus in parliament is a delight to behold. He doesn't care if he keeps his seat in the next election, and bends his formidable intellect to the task of being an honest man on Parliament Hill.

Angus is almost too good to be true. He's a literate engineer, the widower of a feminist icon, a fiercely intelligent grammarian, building a hovercraft in his boathouse. But he is an immensely engaging character, and I enjoyed the book more when he was the focus. Daniel is, quite frankly, not that interesting.

This book reads like the fantasies of a former staffer, one who wondered "what if" after days upon weeks upon months dealing with business as it is done in the capitol. The campaign aspects could have been squeezed down to a fraction of the book, and more spent on the maneuverings of a minority Parliament afterwards, because for me, that's where all the fun is.

The first half isn't bad, but the second half is delightful.


  1. My biggest complaint (knowing little about such exotic things and universities and English courses) was that Daniel's extensive research into his future landlord somehow didn't uncover the fact that he had a very well-known wife, of whom Daniel was a fan.

    1. Yeah, that seems like the sort of thing a basic google search would turn up. Or Wikipedia.