Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor

Winner of the 2003 One Book, One Vancouver Prize

Shortlisted for the 2001 Giller Prize

Shortlisted for the 2001 Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize

Shortlisted for the 2001 City of Vancouver Book Award

Shortlisted for the 2002 BC Book Prize’s Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize

Selected for Canada Reads 2007

Stanley Park is a novel that I was surprised I hadn’t been introduced to before. I didn’t come across it until I was collecting all of the previous Canada Reads contenders. I was immediately taken by the cover, being a former cook and amateur chef in a previous career, I was instantly intrigued by the idea of the main character being a chef and a novel looking at the world of professional cooking. This is a behemoth of a book, the page count comes in at a medium-long length of 436 pages but the print is minuscule and the chapters are very long, so it feels more like a 600 or so page novel. I read this book very slowly, savored it if you will, the language and images are beautiful, the research Timothy Taylor put into the preparation of this book are indescribably well done and practically mind blowing; this book will make you hungry one moment and with the turn of a page induce gut wrenching anxiety.

Being such a big book, the story takes on a lot of themes and wide issues; I really believe that this book will be loved by anyone who reads it and each of those people will likely take away something different from the experience. What I personally took away from the book was a story of artistic vision colliding with capitalist consumerist culture. In the character of Jeremy Papier, you have a brilliant chef, dedicated to using local, homegrown ingredients, running a small independent bistro, The Monkey’s Paw, that is somewhat successful but completely floundering in debt. There is a series of credit card and cheque kites that Jeremy floats in order to keep his dream alive but ultimately it all comes crashing to Earth when he is caught pulling a fast cash scam with his Canadian Tire credit card. Being forced to sell his bistro to Dante Beale, owner of the internationally successful chain Inferno, a Starbucks-esque coffee company. This is the epicenter of this collision. Beale relentlessly researches what he believes will be successful, down to the name and the colours the food should be. This climaxes into the opening night dinner service that will never be forgotten by anyone that reads this book.

The other sub-plot of the story is Jeremy’s father, known only as “The Professor,” doing research on the murder of two children in the 40s in Stanley Park and on homelessness. Living in the park himself, The Professor has dubbed his work “participatory anthropology.” These sections of the novel are just as well written as the workplace comedy aspects and in the end are pushing the reader towards the same conclusion. Our survival depends on the Earth, whether we are literally living off of it as a homeless man in the park or simply eating the vegetables it produces, our existence and survival is pulled from the fruits of the Earth.

The characters and their development in this book are just fabulous. The supporting cast, mainly the homeless characters and kitchen staff, really help the book’s forward momentum. All of the main characters are so well described and their dialog so believable that they grow and develop without the reader consciously knowing it. In this type of novel it would be very easy, in the hands of  a writer of lesser skill, for the characters to fall into the troupes of archetypal patterns and speech; Taylor is without a doubt a very talented man.

I absolutely loved this book. I find it very hard to believe that this one flew under my radar for so long. This is the type of book that everyone will enjoy, not just the literary readers. I have only scratched the surface of what could be talked about; Stanley Park has a little something for everyone. Its pacing is beautiful, there are no superfluous scenes or characters, everything is neatly arranged, much like a chef placing the pieces of asparagus into their exact position on the plate where they are destined to be.

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2 responses

  1. Hi!

    I came across your post through a Google Search for this book (reviews). I just finished reading this book.

    I loved it. So much. And I just wanted to share my personal experience with this book.

    Funnily, I’d bought it back in 2005 and had completely forgotten about it until a few months ago when I decided to organise my books in some order. However, I’m glad I didn’t read it back then (I was just about to start college). The “way” I read and understand books has (obviously) changed over the years. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the link between people and food and the land that connects them. And Jeremy Papier’s personal ‘professional’ journey also struck a chord with me.

    Oh, and I am not a Canadian. I’m from India. You’re right about this book being appreciated by all kinds of readers.

    Glad to have stumbled upon this post.

  2. I also LOVED the book and not quite finished it yet. Great dialogue and character development (and a large cast at that, even the secondary characters are fully fleshed out), fascinating plot lines, themes and motifs and of course, all the foodie stuff – fantastic in itself. My only minor critiques are that it was a little too “This is Vancouver” with some of the descriptions seeming a bit forced in. The Dante character was so very compelling but the satirical devil parallel was too heavy-handed; it didn’t need such explicit exposition. (I mean,”Inferno Coffee”?) The scene where he is having Benny strip for Jeremy was finely written but we didn’t need to be told it was a demonstration of control and humiliation, the author showed us this keenly. The scenes in Stanley Park are just sublime on so many levels, I can’t even talk about them. They were Shakespearean in scope with a fearless dash of Milton. Such a dense book and not one to read quickly, but savoured. Definitely in my top 5 for good.

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