December 2005

Colleen Mondor

fiction

The Logogryph by Thomas Wharton

As I was reading Thomas Wharton’s The Logogryph I thought the book was an interesting collection of book-centered short stories. Every now and again a character reappeared from the first story, about the Weaver family and a young boy whom they befriended. But even these occasional glimpses of the Weavers or the unnamed young narrator were not part of a traditional story arc; they were part of some stories but not others and while overall a picture of Elizabeth Weaver, her husband and children slowly emerged, the “Weaver” stories are no more important then any other tale in the book. I thought they were interesting, but I did not see a big picture; I did not have a hint of what Thomas Wharton was doing until I read the final pages. That’s when I was shocked; I was stunned by the amazing bit of craftwork that he has created with The Logogryph. Then I went back and read the book all over again, and loved it even more.

Wharton has received several literary awards in Canada, and is apparently known there for his unorthodox narratives. Logogryph opens in Jasper, the location of his earlier book Icefields. This is where the mysterious Weavers have settled and embark on a relationship with a young neighbor that will change his life. A tragedy befalls the family in the first few pages and Mrs. Weaver feels compelled to give the neighbor an old suitcase of books, “their yellowed pages smelling of ancient dust, of cellar damp, of long habitation in places I could only dimly imagine.” This unusual collection of books (from compact editions of Swift, Austen, Dickens and Stevenson to the History of the Conquest of Mexico and The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis) proves to have an almost overwhelming impact on the young man’s life. Coupled with his feelings for young Holly Weaver, they result in all the stories that follow. The Logogryph actually ends up being a love story -- about love of books, love of reading, and most poignantly, love that never was.

I really didn’t completely “get” what Wharton was doing when I first read the book. Crazy me, I just read each story as something to be enjoyed on its own and thought they were individually everything from wild to quietly unnerving. Wharton takes his readers from a rediscovered Alexandria Library, to Atlantis, to a couple of used book buyers who wage a war in the margins -- literally. There is the ultimate tarot deck, a collection of odds and ends from a magical cabinet/scrapbook that are revisited and documented throughout the book, and even the inventor of paper. It is all here, and it is only at the end that the reader (or at least this reader) fully realizes how personal the journey has been. I won’t give it all away (although I’m sorely tempted), but this book is truly to be enjoyed on two separate levels: the short stories themselves are great, all of which are compact and complete and utterly original, and then there is the story of the Weavers and the boy, and just how big of an impact that suitcase of books was capable of.

On top of everything else, Gaspereau Press has done a lovely job of publishing The Logogryph. It has an elegant slipcase and the jacket was letterpress printed. Wesley Bates illustrated the interior (my review copy was not illustrated although from other reviews I’m sure they are exquisite). The book has all the appearance of a unique, luxurious experience and certainly ranks among one of the more intriguing titles I’ve come across in awhile. I’m so glad that I was lucky enough to find it and although I have no idea why Thomas Wharton is less known in the U.S., I know that I will be reading all of his previous titles. A writer who is willing to take a chance and then follows through on his promise is someone to be appreciated, and certainly worth a return to.

The Logogryph by Thomas Wharton
Gaspereau Press
ISBN 1894031938
236 pages