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Latest Review: "Wigrum" by Daniel Canty

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by P. T. Smith on Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, from Talonbooks.

Patrick, who is one of our regular reviewers, not only has a heightened interest in) and geographical proximity to) Montreal and its literature scene, but also shares the amusement and probable giggles at the sound of the book’s title. (I used the arrival of the galley as reason to continually creep around the office muttering “Wigrummm, WIIIGRUUUMMMM!”).

I can’t wait to finish Wigrum myself, and enjoy not only the encyclopedic aspect of it, but also the “who’s really who” games Canty plays. Several times throughout the entries, Canty lists initials (like S. W. and J. S.) that correspond to multiple possible names, giving the perfect balance of ambiguity and certainty—not too unlike books like Antoine Volodine’s Minor Angels. And as you’ll see in Patrick’s review, the entries can be comical, sad, and at times pointless. And sometimes a little dirty, such as the “Arachnid Thimble,” in which one Baron Rudolf Drangstelzer has a pet Amazonian forest spider, Mother Salome, whose legs are tipped in rubber thimbles to protect humans from its venom—“an aphrodisiac with deadly properties, inducing in its victim a copulatory madness that eventually depletes them of all their bodily fluids . . .” And though things don’t end so well for Drangstelzer, he does go out with a happy ending.

Anyway! On to Patrick’s review:

From the start, Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, published by Canadian press Talonbooks, is obviously a novel of form. Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a framework from which to hang the inventories. We get a table of contents, where oddly, the preface follows the only chapter, we are given a set of “Instructions to the Reader” and the whole work ends with an index. The bulk of the book is the collection, the objects ostensibly found by the collector Wigrum, the man behind these collections (though the book throws this into doubt; there are other collectors, other writers). They are arranged alphabetically, all with an illustration in the margin, a touch that gives them more weight, rather than letting the story dominate the scale. It is a nice graphic touch, and eventually becomes part of how the book complicates itself. Novels where form dominates, and ones where the graphic design element is strong, can be exciting, but they are also easily met with a challenge—do you have more to offer me or are you just a pretty object, a chair that looks nice in the corner, but not recommended as a reading chair?

Besides risking form over substance, Wigrum is also immediately quirky—a culturally-loaded term that for some is ever-appealing, for others, an easy and lazy dismissal (the fear that it is simply a gimmick), with the middle ground needing the full context of the book or film. We aren’t in Wes Anderson territory here, but Canty does want to charm the reader with fantasy, with claims of authenticity that no one is falling for or being confused by.

For the rest of the review—and for more reasons to read this book—go here.



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