Robert Harris’s Act of Oblivion is historical fiction at its best

British novelist Robert Harris, author of Fatherland, Enigma, Pompeii and others, is back with another masterful work of historical fiction in Act of Oblivion (2022).

Set in the aftermath of England’s bitter Civil War (1642-1651) between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers) over the manner of England’s governance and issues of religious freedom and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1860, the novel revolves around attempts to hunt down and punish the “regicides” who were responsible for the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

While the Act of Oblivion — full title “An Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion” — was a general pardon for everyone who had committed crimes during the Civil War, it called for the apprehension and execution of the fifty-nine people named in the act as those who ordered the execution of Charles I.

This is where Harris the storyteller takes over.

Calling his work an imaginative re-creation of a true story, Harris tells the story of a fictitious manhunter named Richard Nayler who pursues two regicides, Edward Whalley and William Goffe, who have fled to New England to escape persecution. While Nayler is fictitious, Whalley and Goffe are real characters.

Two Puritans who fought alongside Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War, Whalley and Goffe remain unfazed in their belief that the execution of Charles I was justified, and that the restoration of Charles II will be short-lived.

As wanted men, the two have to go underground finding refuge in the homes of sympathetic colonists and New England governors and clergymen. They also spend a great deal of time living rough in the wilderness.

To be sure, the two regicides are intolerable hardcore Puritans who believed that only the elect would go to heaven, that their aggressively righteous ends justified their often-ruthless means, and that the world would end in 1666. If this sounds familiar, Whalley and Goffe bear a striking resemblance to the insufferable members of the American Evangelical Christian Right who have garnered so much undue influence in American politics in recent decades with their talk of authoritarian theocracy and the Rapture.

Readers are torn between siding with the two resourceful regicides and their dogged pursuer. But unfortunately, they know the novel is not going to end well for any of the characters. Add to this a bit of a surprise ending, and readers should come away feeling satisfied.

Harris has assembled a highly readable novel with enough twists and turns to keep readers turning the pages. Highly recommended.

Act of Oblivion is now available at all leading bookstores.

The Sweet Delilah Swim Club delights

“The faster we swim, the more we win!”

This is the mantra that has brought the five former members of a college swim team together annually for a weekend in August at the Sweet Delilah cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to re-connect and share the changes that have happened in their lives over the past year.

As we meet and get to know the five women, it becomes obvious that about the only thing they now have in common is their past swimming glory. Sheree (Marcia Tratt), the team captain, and the organizer of the group who attempts to keep the group in line; Dinah (Barbara Fulton), the impeccably dressed career-driven lawyer; the vain much married Lexie (Cara Hunter), who has tried to hold back the hands of time with plastic surgery; Jeri (Karen Wood), the “Nun gone bad,” who shows up with a big surprise; and the wisecracking Vernadette (Mary Pitt), whom we learn has led a not-so-happy life since college.

The play zooms in on four of their weekends and spans a period of thirty-three years. With each passing year, the friends come to rely on each other for advice and support about men, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce, and aging, sometimes with success, other times not so much.

Directed by Sheila McCarthy, The Sweet Delilah Swim Club is a hilarious and touching bitter-sweet comedy about the power of friendship. The cast is superb, but special mention needs to be made of Mary Pitt’s performance, who as Vernadette, gets to deliver some of the best one-liners in the play.

“Men always promise they’ll die for you, then they don’t,” she says at one point when the group is discussing relationships.

The Sweet Delilah Swim Club continues at the Huron Country Playhouse South Huron Stage until September 4.

Reviewed by Rick Young, The Beat Magazine.

It’s been awhile…

Well, it’s been awhile since I posted anything.

This two and a half year pandemic has left me restless, and often at a loss for words. I avoided writing about the perils of living under a life-threatening pandemic and it curtailed my social and cultural life to a point that I really didn’t have much to write about.

I watched a lot of Netflix. Some of it very good, some of it very bad.

I followed the public health regulations – masking and social distancing, etc. And I’m happy to say I have managed to dodge the little bugger so far (Knock on wood!).

In the last month, I have attended a couple of concerts and enjoyed some live theatre at the Grand and Stratford Festival.

To say that I am looking forward to a relatively “normal” summer would be an understatement.

What about you?

April 18, 2022.

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream recommended

I just finished reading Dean Jobb’s The Case of The Murderous Dr. Cream, a true crime story written in the narrative non-fiction style of Erik Larson (The Devil in The White City).

Once believed to have been Jack the Ripper, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (who for awhile resided and practiced medicine in London, Ontario) was a calculating Victorian Era serial killer who left behind bodies in three countries before being hung in London, England on November 15, 1892.

Author Dean Jobb has written a very readable book that takes readers into the slums of London, England and Chicago, and the growing town of London, Ontario.

Readers are left wondering how Cream got away with his crimes as long as he did.

Highly recommended.👍👍👍👍

Canada Day 2021 a conundrum

Canada Day 2021 presents many Canadians with a decision to make, including this writer.

Will they celebrate the day with family picnics and get togethers with friends and families and evening fireworks as is tradition, or will they choose to forego this year’s planned festivities in light of the tragic discoveries of unmarked Indigenous graves in the weeks leading up to the holiday? Or somewhere in between?

While a longtime Canadian nationalist (going back to the 1960s when it meant being virulently anti-American) and Canadian History teacher, I have never really gone in for the fervent one-day flag waving, almost American style, patriotism many people seem to relish. And I have nothing but disgust for the drunken louts with Canadian flags painted on their faces who insist on singing Oh Canada at the top of their lungs, off key and devoid of the correct words.

For me, Canada Day (or as it used to be called, Dominion Day) has always been about giving thanks for being a citizen of what I thought was a shining example of a tolerant, multicultural diverse nation — an exemplar for the rest of the world, if you will.

I regularly attended New Citizenship Swearing In Ceremonies in my community so I could witness immigrants from other countries embracing Canada as their own. And I was known to sing Oh Canada proudly at public events. And, yes, I know the correct words.

That was then; this is now.

Since the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. and now the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, like many other Canadians, I have been doing a lot of soul-searching about this year’s Canada Day.

Writer Shari Graydon summed up her feelings succinctly in an Opinion piece in The Toronto Star this week:

“I can no longer celebrate Canada Day, and I’m at a loss as to why anyone else should, either. The holiday has become for me a reminder of the unspeakable wrongs my ancestors visited upon those who inhabited this land for many centuries before white settlers arrived. Wrongs that many governments have continued in my lifetime.”

“Every cent earmarked for Canada Day celebrations — the concerts, the fireworks, the speechmaking — should be multiplied by a thousand and invested instead in the reconciliation efforts repeatedly called for not just by Indigenous peoples but by government reports documenting the indefensible acts carried out in our names.

No doubt it would still be a drop in the bucket relative to what’s required, but at least it would remind us every year that we cannot in all conscience, celebrate ‘Canada’ until our actions live up to our commitments to human rights,” she continues.

[You can access the entire article here

Indeed, some communities like all the cities in New Brunswick and Belleville, Ontario have cancelled their planned Canada Day activities altogether in recognition and respect for the plight of the nation’s Indigenous Peoples, calling instead for a day of reconciliation for the relationship between Canada’s Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Peoples. Some communities plan on flying the Indigenous flag alongside the Maple Leaf.

(Note: At the time of writing, the City of London had not issued an official statement regarding its intentions for the day.)

No matter how communities and individuals end up dealing with Canada Day this year, one thing is certain.

It will not be celebrated with the apparent past willful ignorance of the plight of the nation’s Indigenous Peoples and the horrific legacy of the Residential Schools which existed throughout Canada from the 1870s to the 1990s.

No amount of flag waving will ever erase that legacy.