by Kerry Gillard
When I saw that the next book on our book club list was about politics I was not overly excited. Anyone who knows me knows that politics is absolutely my least favourite subject to talk about or read about and even the fact that it was supposed to be humorous wasn’t really piquing my interest. However, as I had missed the last couple of books, I decided I really should give it a try – and I am very happy that I did!
Originally released chapter by chapter as a podcast because of difficulties in finding a publisher, Terry Fallis released the book himself after the podcasts proved very popular. The release of the book was just as popular and led to the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, an annual Canadian literary award that he received in 2008.
The story is told in the first person by Daniel Addison, a disillusioned speech writer looking to rekindle his love of politics and his work after finding his girlfriend in a rather compromising position with the Opposition House Leader. Fallis’ use of language and political terms to describe the scene as a shocked Daniel watches from behind a plant is hilarious and immediately endeared me both to Daniel and the book.
When Daniel asks permission from his party to leave to become a professor of English Literature at the University of Ottawa, he is granted it with one condition. He must find a Liberal candidate to run in the election for Cumberland-Prescott – a Tory stronghold where the most beloved Tory minister in the country would be running. Daniel’s efforts to find a candidate are going nowhere until he meets Angus McLintock, the Professor of Engineering at the university, who is desperate to get out of teaching English For Engineers. Angus has no interest whatsoever in politics and certainly not in becoming a candidate for any party. After a lot of persuading, and realizing that there is no chance of winning in such a strong Tory riding, Angus agrees to run if Daniel will take his English for Engineers class.
Daniel, finally having found his candidate then has to run a campaign where his candidate will not give speeches, appear in public or allow his picture to be used. With the help of long time Liberal Muriel Parkinson, a retired former candidate who had run in the Cumberland-Prescott riding five times previously, and two punk rockers called Pete and Pete, Daniel starts running a campaign he knows he will lose.
That’s when the unthinkable happens – the steadfast, beloved Tory minister is caught by the press in a sex scandal and dropped by his party. Suddenly Angus has a chance of winning, and that is not something he is happy about! The remainder of the book, I am going to let you discover on your own as I think Daniel and Angus’s reactions to the situation deserve to be read unspoiled.
What I loved most about this book was that it was funny and political without being in your face about either. I laughed a great deal (out loud on public transit at one point!) and I actually enjoyed the political aspect. I was a little concerned, given my dislike of politics, that reading a story written from a particular party view would put me off what was happening with the bigger picture, but I never felt like a specific agenda was pushed and it would have been just as enjoyable had the parties been switched.
The characters are exceptionally well rounded right from page one and caught my interest instantly. Daniel’s growth and the reawakening of his love of politics, along with his developing relationships with both Angus and Muriel is beautifully written as are the letters Angus writes to his recently deceased wife that are sprinkled throughout the narrative. I must confess to the odd tear over some of the letters and reading about a man coming to terms with such a loss. Muriel’s unflagging energy despite suffering from Parkinson’s Disease is inspiring both to Daniel and Angus through their journey and also to the reader, showing that no matter what life throws at you, you are always your own person.
Reading this book definitely opened my eyes to a new genre that I have previously overlooked entirely due to my personal feelings regarding politics. I didn’t think that I would be able to get past the fact that I tend to switch off when the subject is raised and so I always avoided political literature thinking I would not be engaged in the story. Now I will definitely be more open to reading politically based books. When they are well written, as The Best Laid Plans was, they are thoroughly deserving of my attention.
When I finished the book, I wanted more. Thankfully there is a sequel – The High Road – which I am currently reading and so far it is easily as enjoyable as The Best Laid Plans. Stay tuned for a review once I am finished!