Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Randy Boyagoda's Original Prin

The Toronto Public Library offers the Appel Salon program where authors come to the main library to talk about their most recent book; Randy Boyagoda came this fall to talk about his Original Prin. I thought the book sounded interesting and I must not have been the only one because, though I put it on the hold list the next day, the library only now delivered to me.

Original Prin is the comic story of Princely St. John Umbiligoda, (yes, really) a Sri Lankan immigrant and now a professor at a small--and getting smaller--Toronto-area Catholic university. He's married to Molly and has four daughters; at the start of the novel he has just had surgery for prostate cancer. He's in his 40s.

Also that getting smaller university is about to disappear entirely. The university president has hired a consulting firm to try to save something of the university, and the primary consultant is Prin's ex-girlfriend from graduate school, Wende. Does Prin still have feelings for Wende? How does that comport with his Catholic beliefs? Could he even do anything about it anyway, after his surgery? Well, of such stuff are novels made on.

At the Appel Salon talk, Boyagoda said he'd come to his editor (John Metcalf at Biblioasis) with a 600-page page manuscript. Metcalf told him inside that there was a 200-page novel seeking to get out. (Inside every fat man...) Metcalf put him on a diet of short comic novels and told him to cut and Boyagoda did: this was 223 pages in my edition. At the talk Boyagoda particularly mentioned Evelyn Waugh, which alarmed me: I'm not very fond of the what they tell me are the funny novels of Waugh, like Scoop or Vile Bodies. But something else that was said suggested to me Morte d'Urban, which I very much do like. The story is the idea of a good person trying to do good in a fallen (and bureaucratic) world.

Well, it was neither Waugh nor Powers. Not nearly so unedifying as Waugh, and, for my money, funnier than Waugh, but not as funny and warming as Powers. The humour is more of the nature of Prin's silly name than the situational humour of Fr. Urban in Morte d'Urban. There's a lot of guilt-ridden agonizing on the part of Prin, which is funny, but I do feel like I've read that before, though not in a Sri Lankan immigrant. The best moment I thought came early when Prin is in confessional with Fr. Tom.

Anyway, good, if not everything I had hoped. It's apparently the first of a planned trilogy. I don't know if that explains it, but the ending was both over the top and a bit unsatisfying, and not in the, I, the author, don't mean to satisfy you way.

Another entry for the Canadian Book Challenge:

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