Title: The Best Laid Plans
By: Terry Fallis
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Andra
A burnt-out political aide quits just before an election — but is forced to run a hopeless campaign on the way out. He makes a deal with a crusty old Scot, Angus McLintock — an engineering professor who will do anything, anything, to avoid teaching English to engineers — to let his name stand in the election. No need to campaign, certain to lose – or is he? (Goodreads)
This is the first book I have read by Terry Fallis and it certainly will not be my last.
I thoroughly enjoyed (once I got past the prologue that is) the storytelling. Daniel Addison is disenchanted with his life as a political aide on Parliament Hill. As he embarks on a career as an English professor at the University of Ottawa, one of his last tasks as an outgoing political aide is to get a liberal candidate for the riding of Cumberland-Prescott and run a viable campaign. The trouble is…where to get a candidate as the previous candidate (five times I might add) and is not interested in running a sixth time! Daniel has always wanted to live on the water, and through some shrewd maneuvering, laced with luck, he landed the upper floor of a boathouse built mere meters from the Ottawa River. His landlord is Angus McLintock – an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa. Turns out that Angus gets stuck (again) teaching English for Engineers – a course he hates to teach. A trade is made – Daniel will teach the English course for Angus and Angus will be the liberal candidate for the Cumberland-Prescott riding…as long as he does not have to campaign… and he is assured of losing!
I loved the description that Daniel gave of the campaign – had me chuckling:
“I was running a phantom candidate, in a cash-strapped campaign we were sure to lose, aided by an ailing octogenarian, her attractive granddaughter, and two pierced punks. Our campaign headquarters consisted of a ready-for-the-scrap-heap Ford rust bucket and a government-owned cell phone. We had no lawn signs, no advertising, no marked voter lists, and one cheesy, desktop-published leaflet with no pictures.”
The campaign is going along smoothly, with nary any liberal support at all (just what McLintock wants) when the incumbent gets literally caught with his pants down. Not good for McLintock’s losing strategy I fear.
Another favorite passage of mine – when the whole Eric Cameron (incumbent) fiasco came to a head and Daniel was contemplating the state of the campaign:
“You know how sometimes, after a really bleak and demoralizing experience, when all hope seemed lost, you awake from a fitful sleep to a sunny morning and just like that, the world doesn’t seem quite so malevolent? When after what seemed dark and depressing the night before isn’t nearly so threatening in the light and warmth of a new and promising day? Well, that didn’t happen to me. When I awoke the morning after the real Eric Cameron was laid bare for all Canadians to see, I had absolutely none of those redeeming and hopeful thoughts and feelings. None. Nada. Zilch. I was positioned directly in front of the fan, and a whole lot of shit was arching my way.”
Needless to say – the unlikely candidate (Angus) ends up winning the seat in the election. And from there it just gets funnier and certainly more interesting.
The following passage about the time when Angus passed into the Library of Parliament for the first time was reminiscent of how I felt that first time.
“I stood aside and let Angus pass into the three-tiered wooden glory of the Library of Parliament. An alabaster statue of Queen Victoria towered over us in the centre of the circular library. A handful of staff laboured under her benevolent gaze. I fell silent and listened for Angus’s reaction. I was rewarded by his sharp intake of breath at the sight of three levels of ornate, wooden shelves, which circled the perimeter of the room, and the arched windows in the domed, sky-lit ceiling.”
Note: I took this picture when I first toured the Library of Parliament. This library is the last remaining part of the original Centre Block building. It opened in 1876 and was the only section to survive the fire of 1916.
Another aspect I enjoyed was getting reacquainted with the machinations of Canadian politics.
I really enjoyed the character Muriel Parkinson. I could not imagine running in five elections and never winning. To have the gumption to continue running even when your fate is certainly known beforehand. And many of the scenes centering around Riverfront Seniors’ Residence (especially the dog poop scene) were hilarious. Daniel was known as the “doggy doo-doo diving champ”. Let us also not forget the two Pete’s ☺. And Angus’ notes to his deceased wife – very heartfelt.
Providing me another great chuckle – on Politics & hockey:
“No lawn signs in an election campaign? It’s like Trudeau without the rose, Diefenbaker without jowls, or the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. It’s unnatural.”
I have not enjoyed a book I had to read for my book club so thoroughly in such a long. I liked it so much – I am going to read the sequel – The High Road. If you enjoy humor, political stories, a bit of a love story and anything Canadian – then this book is for you. After all – a book that is the 2011 winner of CBC Canada Reads as the “essential Canadian novel of the decade.” Can’t be all bad ☺