Shortlisted for the 1984 Governor-General’s Award for Fiction
Selected for Canada Reads 2008
Not Wanted on the Voyage, much like Timothy Findley’s writing in general, tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Before I started reading this book I read some reviews online, most of which were from 2008 when the book was on Canada Reads, and many were not overly positive. I really enjoy Findley, Pilgrim being one of my favorite books, so I was looking forward to reading this. I loved it. This novel has taken on the status of a modern classic, evidenced by the fact that the most recent publication is part of Penguin’s Modern Classics series. On a topical level Not Wanted on the Voyage is a retelling of the biblical flood tale with a feminist twist, but there is a lot more than this going on in this story. Amongst the themes that are examined are family roles and dynamics, the danger of being at the mercy of your faith, and the arbitrariness of nature. I thought this book was very funny in parts, but painfully gruesome in others.
I think only Timothy Findley could pull off a biblical revisionist novel from the narrative point-of-view of a blind 20 year old cat. This cat, Mottyl, makes the book. The first 20-30 pages were very difficult to get into but once the ancient and decrepit Yaweh finally arrives for his visit with the devoted Dr. Noah Noyes the forward motion of the story really picks up. There are so many memorable scenes on both sides of the scale. Some of the funniest moments include Mrs. Noyes conducting her chorus of singing sheep, the Noyes’s son Japeth being marinated by barbarians in preparation to be eaten before he escapes their capture, resulting in his skin having a permanent blue hue, and the countless incidents of Mottyl narrating the everyday life of an old house cat. But there are other scenes that are as disturbing as the previous mentions are funny: the surplus animals on the Noyes homestead being burned in a giant pyre, Lotte’s throat being slit and birds pecking out her eyes, and the famous scene which is always associated with this book where Noah rapes his 11 year old daughter-in-law with a unicorn’s horn, killing the unicorn in the process, in order to prepare her for her husband. Between the violence and blasphemy there is something to offend almost everyone; it is definitely not for the pious Sunday church going crowd.
The animals are very memorable in this book. There are dog-sized unicorns, one- and two-headed demons that emit fire, and talking critters of every variety. Findley does a masterful job of the imagery and painting a picture of times long past. He gets down to the most minute details using beautiful metaphors. My one criticism of the book is his use of one particular character: Lucy. I will issue a spoiler alert here. Lucy, we find out early in the book after Michael Archangelis (clever right?) does battle with a dragon, turns out to be Lucifer in a human guise. He has taken this form and married one of the Noyes children in order to gain passage on the ark and avoid certain death. Very little was done with this character, but yet, (s)he is still an intriguing and essential part of the story.
This book constantly challenges the reader’s sense of good and evil; forcing the reader to realize that not all is black and white and there is often times ambiguity in doing something that is ultimately good. Not Wanted on the Voyage is a very rewarding book. Now to be honest, it is a fairly slow read, it is dense, there are points where there is not a lot of forward motion, and if you are reading the Penguin Classics printing it suffers from the usual problems of this line: very small print, a lot of text on the page, and page breaks are at a minimum. To enjoy this book you need to allow the humour to reach you and realize that this really is a foolish idea for a novel; therein again lies the ambiguity. This story joins a long list of other Canadian novelists reworking biblical stories, such as A Time for Judas or Testament. If you are still having doubts, this novel is worth reading for the the simple reason that it will explain what is going on behind your cats creepy and shiny eyes.
Co-Winner of the 2002 Trillium Award
Shortlisted for the 2002 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
Shortlisted for the 2002 Commonwealth Prize, Canada and Caribbean Region
A Vancouver Sun Book of the Year ~ 2002
A Booklist Choice for Top Ten Historical Novels of the Year ~ 2002
A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year ~ 2002
This is the third time I have read Testament and each time I always notice something new and amazing. Nino Ricci’s fourth novel, Testament, tells the story of Jesus Christ but with a twist; Jesus, or Yeshua as he is known through most of the book, is simply a very charismatic ordinary human being who’s legacy has been skewed and mystified. The story is told through four different narrators in four different “books” (seeing a connection?): Yihuda of Qiryat, Miryam of Migdal, Miryam his Mother, and Simon of Gergesa. To add a bit of humanism of the character of Jesus, Ricci, in the first three books, choses to use the ancient Aramaic names that would have been used in the historical time frame. The reader is challenged on several different points in the gospel narrative and some very inventive explanations on how the stories evolved into what we know today.
Much like the Gospels, there is a lot of overlap in Ricci’s four books with each giving their own piece of the puzzle. Some of the traditional ideas that Testament turns around includes the Virgin Birth, in which is explained by Miryam his Mother being raped by a Roman soldier and impregnating her; Judas’s (Yihuda’s) betrayal and that is was not against Yeshua but his group of Judean rebels; the healing powers and miracles of Jesus; and finally, or course, the resurrection. When you read this book you will be thinking one of two things (or two if you are good critical reader), you will either think that Ricci is a genius for possibly decoding how the story of the historical Jesus came to be; on the other side of the coin you may think that this book is a complete work of blasphemy.
But that being said, while you are reading this book you have to remember one thing, this is a novel, a work of fiction. Nino Ricci is not trying to turn anyone against their faith of discredit one of the most important historical figures in Western Civilization. This book is ultimately about our perceptions and how our interpretations of any event or person can be swayed or skewed by our perception. On one side of the coin you have the narrator of the fourth book, the pagan Simon of Gergesa, who has heard many fantastic stories about the man he knows as Jesus and witnesses what he believes to be Jesus raising someone from the dead when in fact it is very obvious that this was just an example of great medical treatment. You are left thinking that Simon really does believe in the preternatural abilities of this man. But as the book opens, Yihuda has seen the man he knows as Yeshua as a tortured ordinary man who is a great orator and conciliator; Yihuda has a great deal of inner turmoil caused by his relationship with Yeshua but from my reading of the story I do not see him at any point believing that Yeshua is divine in anyway. In his eyes Yeshua is a charismatic and strong man who simply wants to make his part of the world a better place for anyone who believes in the one true God.
Nino Ricci is without a doubt one of Canada’s newest rising literary stars. With only five novels he has won two Governor General’s Awards, a Trillium prize, been shortlist and longlisted for the Giller Prize, and the list goes on. Testament has long been on of my favorite novels. The language that Ricci uses to put the reader back into the ancient world of 2000 years ago is simply poetic and mesmerizing. This is a very long book. I have the fairly large first edition hardcover and it is over 450 pages; but that being said it is almost like reading 4 books in one because of the shifting narrators, perspectives, and style. This book deserves to be listed amongst the worlds greatest biblical meta-fiction. If you read this book and enjoyed it I would strongly recommend you also check out The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis; this is another narrative about the life of Jesus but with its own unique perspective.