You Read What? Book Reviews: Sussex Drive

Author(s): Linda Svendsen

Publisher: Random House Canada

Date Published: October 2nd, 2012

Format: Hard Cover

Source: Toronto Public Library

Synopsis:

A startingly funny and deeply satisfying satirical novel that makes the Canadian political scene accessible from the female perspective, behind the scenes at the top of the hill.

Torn from the headlines, Sussex Drive is a rollicking, cheeky, alternate history of big-ticket political items in Canada told from the perspectives of Becky Leggatt (the sublimely capable and manipulative wife of a hard-right Conservative prime minister) and just a wink away at Rideau Hall, Lise Lavoie (the wildly exotic and unlikely immigrant Governor General)—two wives and mothers living their private lives in public.
Set in recent history, when the biggest House on their turf is shuttered not once, not twice, but three times, Becky and Lise engage in a fight to the death in a battle that involves Canada’s relationship to the United States, Afghanistan and Africa. The rest of the time, the women are driving their kids.

From Linda Svendsen’s sharp and wicked imagination comes a distaff Ottawa like no other ever created by a Canadian writer, of women manoeuvring in a political world gone more than a little mad, hosting world leaders, dealing with the challenges of minority government, and worrying about teen pregnancies and their own marriages. As they juggle these competing interests, Becky and Lise are forced to question what they thought were their politics, and make difficult choices about their families and their futures—federal and otherwise.

Number of Days It Took to Read: It’s technically a DNF (Did Not Finish) but it took me 2 days to read 245 pages.

Cover:

Sussex Drive

LOVE the cover. It’s simple with satirical bite. The blacking out of John A. MacDonald’s eyes in the picture was a nice touch. I was immediately intrigued by the cover and the synopsis just locked this book as a priority on my to-be-read list.

The Writing Score: 2 out of 5

Recommendation: I’d say the political savvy but it really depends if this particular brand of satire is for you or not.

Memorable or Forgettable: Forgettable

Rating: 2 out of 5

Review:

Ah man. I really wanted to like this book. I REALLY wanted to.

The book didn’t work for me. I can’t even tell you why I hung on until page 245 but I can tell you that I couldn’t continue because: a) nothing in terms of plot or even characters gave me a reason to and b) the satire gave me a headache and confused me. I’ve read satire. I’ve written satire. So it’s not that the concept of satire eludes me but instead I felt Svendsen’s satire was forced and sometimes I just didn’t get the point of a particular line or dialogue. I’ll divide this review into sections as a way of organizing my thoughts and arguments.

The Politics

I like to think that I know how politics in my country works generally. I am in no way an expert but I’m not particularly naive either. I took Civics for crying out loud so I know how a bill becomes a law and I also watch the news once in a while to hear about things such as McGuinty proroguing government (and yes, I know what that means). Yet, I felt that part of the reason that the satire in the novel didn’t work was because it depended heavily on the reader knowing the nitty gritty of Canadian Politics and there wasn’t any explanation (not even a quick one) for someone who may not know. Hey, maybe it’s just me with my limited knowledge. I’m cool with that. It’s not like the book as a whole confused me. I knew what was going on and I thought it was representing the realities of politics well (quite successfully in fact that I was slightly depressed while reading it) but it would be nice for an explanation here or there.

The Writing

Another reason why the satire didn’t work for me was because it was plastered on so thick. This explains why I didn’t think this book was funny, why I thought the characters were 2 dimensional and why I my head hurt in deciphering what was being said and sometimes what was going on in a scene. The thoughts of these characters didn’t feel like their’s and I really didn’t feel anything for any of them. Also, there’s sentences and dialogues in French that weren’t given a English translation right after so, unless you know your French, you have no clue what was said.

This book felt like a messy confusion and again, it might just be me. I might not understand her brand of satire or know enough about politics. Maybe it wasn’t written for people like me. Who know? I just know that I’ve never had such difficulty reading a book like I had with this one. On a positive note: this book got me thinking about Canadian politics and that, as Canadians, we’re letting a lot of things slide.

I’ll be happy to hear opposing opinions on this book to see what I’ve been missing…

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

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