Winner of the 2005 Governor General’s Award for Fiction
Longlisted for the 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize
David Gilmour’s Governor General’s Award winning novel A Perfect Night to Go to China brought him to the bookshelves of a lot of people who have never heard of him. He was the well known host of Gilmour on the Arts on CBC for many years. This novel is really the masterpiece of Gilmour’s career to date. The book focuses on a father, Roman, who makes the very poor decision to go for a drink at a bar one night while his young son is home alone in bed; upon returning he sees his son is gone and the downward spiral begins. The book abstract or synopsis would lead you to believe that the book focuses on the search of his son and events surrounding the disappearance. This is not the case. A Perfect Night to Go to China is about a man coping with his own poor decisions and the ensuing chaos and personal sabotage that ensues.
The actual writing of the book is very beautiful. It is clear, concise, it reads very fast, and after completing the book you sit back and realize that yes, David Gilmour is a lot smarter than you are but he doesn’t rub it into your face with over used or cryptic metaphors and similes. The book is not without it’s flaws though; one thing that really struck me about the book was a complete disregard for any kind of psychological realism. One of the key tools the book uses is dream sequences, which the reader is led to believe is Roman’s visions of the afterlife. With his mother as a guide, he communicates with his son and continually asks for his forgiveness. Albeit that Roman’s life does unravel, he indulges in reckless drug use, assaulting people, and robbery, there is very little realistic reaction to the situation that he is facing, and, in the end, ultimately responsible for. Most people would agree that if you are having visions of your child in the afterlife you would likely also have other more disturbing visions of how your child arrived at this point.
The ending of the book is very vague and ambiguous; likely done so intentionally. I have the feeling that when Gilmour reached his target word count he didn’t how to end the story. It is obvious that our protagonist does attempt suicide but what follows is really anyone’s guess. SPOILER ALERT! One thing I will give kudos to Mr. Gilmour for is that he does not reveal what happened to Roman’s son Simon. I think this would have cheapened the novel. Simon’s disappearance is not the key event in the book; instead it is the precipitating event in Roman’s emotional collapse. Simon’s disappearance is a symbol, nothing more.
Would I recommend this book to a friend? Yes. Do I think it deserved to win the 2005 Governor-General’s Award over Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road or Golda Fried’s Nellcott is My Darling? I don’t know if I could say yes; I could definitely give all kinds of reasons why not though.