________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 4 . . . . October 20, 2000

cover The Low Life: Five Great Tales From Up and Down the River.

Brian Doyle.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/Douglas & McIntyre, 1999.
399 pp, cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 0-88899-383-8.

Subject Heading:
Children's Stories-Canadian (English).

Grades 5 - 9 / Ages 10 - 14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**** /4

The "Five Great Tales" in question are Doyle's previously published books: Uncle Ronald, Angel Square, Easy Avenue, The Covered Bridge, and Up to Low. They cover the time period from 1895 until just after the Second World War. Some characters appear in more than one book, including Nerves, the dog who mirrors the emotions of whomever he is with. (The dust jacket calls him "the most unforgettable dog in Canadian literature" - a bit of literary hyperbole excusable only if the perpetrator has never encountered Farley Mowat's Mutt!) It makes for quite a feast of Doyle, but, while his first-person style of tongue-tied adolescent-boy narrators gets a little wearing, I did not get the sort of literary indigestion that frequently results from a gathering of independent works between one set of covers. Partly this was because the books are short and partly because the collection leads to a very pleasurable sense of evolution of events in a familiar environment.
    Uncle Ronald occurs the earliest but was written last of the five, whereas Up to Low, written first, is chronologically last. This collection is, therefore, an opportunity to read the books in the "proper" order, i.e. chronologically. Does this matter? Not a lot; the books easily stand alone, with the exception of The Covered Bridge which is an obvious sequel to Easy Street and tells of the further adventures of Hubbo O'Driscoll. Uncle Frank, that determined drunkard, first appears in Angel Square, but comes into his own in Up to Low where, upon being forced to "sign the pledge," finds the only loophole, and gets happily drunk on creme de menthe. Liqueurs had not been mentioned in the document he had endorsed!
    Throughout all five works, we hear the authentic voice of the adolescent boy, trying to sort out right and wrong, beginning to notice girls, kind, cruel, awkward, shy, and charming, sequentially or simultaneously. These are "good" stories. Read them, sandwiching something/somebody between the separate works if you like, but read them.

Highly recommended.

Although Mary Thomas lives and works in Winnipeg, MB, she has a summer cottage a mere hundred miles from Ottawa and so is perhaps prejudiced in favour of stories of the area.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364