By Renée Hulan (auth.)
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Extra info for Canadian Historical Writing: Reading the Remains
126 As de Groot shows, the historical novel is a rigidly conventional though remarkably diffuse form in contemporary literature with variations on the same themes arising in popular culture everywhere. Indeed, there is an astonishing sameness to the themes explored in contemporary historical fiction responding to the appetite for these subjects in the reading public. For example, de Groot’s summary—“As well as an attempt to personalise what are now standard tropes such as the gas attacks, going over the top, the mud of the trenches, 32 CANADIAN HISTORICAL WRITING the novel is a postcolonial writing back of a familiar narrative”127—is a remarkably accurate description of Joseph Boyden’s award-winning novel Three Day Road (2005) although it is actually referring to A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry: the latter tells the story of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and the former, that of two First Nations soldiers fighting for Canada in World War I.
The narrator in The Wars is a researcher who reconstructs past time as he sifts through photographs and letters and pieces together memories recollected in taped interviews. In her reading of the novel, Hutcheon emphasizes the self-consciousness of the narrator and departs from the early criticism responding to the novel that had called on readers to “look” and “listen” as the narrator invites them. 90 York focuses on the photo of Robert holding the animal skull, identifying it as conventional momento mori, an icon that invites the viewer to meditate on life and death.
Those occupying the most privileged and powerful positions in society can evade responsibility by pretending the choices they made in their own youth, and later in life, have had nothing to do with the state of the world. This denial of personal responsibility, nurtured by the unfettered individualism promised the baby boom generation, encourages collective amnesia as individuals forget that actions have consequences. Whatever tensions between generations may be at work, the motivation for targeting youth is a nationalist agenda, for it is much easier to equate younger generations with the future of the nation than it is those in their later years and thus to spread a sense of panic about the nation’s future.