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In Timothy Findley's novels, anything can happen. Over the course
of his formidable writing career, he has covered topics as diverse
as Noah's Ark (NOT WANTED ON THE VOYAGE) and the glamour of fascism
(FAMOUS LAST WORDS). His scope has no limits, and the reader should
not bother to guess what will happen next, as it is impossible to
predict the future in books where surrealism blends so effortlessly
with reality.

The title of SPADEWORK refers to a flower bed dug in the backyard
of actor Griffin Kincaid, who shares a house with his wife, prop
designer Jane Terry and their son Will. The gardener cuts a phone
line as he's digging, and from this mundane accident, the Kincaid
household spirals into crisis. Griffin is unable to make a crucial
phone call, and in the brutally competitive theater world, this
neglect is enough to put him at the mercy of a sexually predatory
director. The actor's marriage isn't on very firm ground in the
first place, so his affair, matched by Jane's infatuation with an
angelic-seeming telephone repairman, sends the couple into
freefall. They are dismayed by how quickly and easily their
marriage crumbles.

There is also a rash of murders in Stratford and a disturbing rumor
of a serial killer. When it turns out that the killer is one of
those pedestrian people everyone in the book sees every day, it
adds to the inescapable impression that no one really knows what's
in the hearts of other people. Both Jane and Griffin keep secrets,
and it's painful to see the impact of their trouble on their young
son. The deaths in this book, particularly those of children, force
the conclusion: When you realize you have no idea how long the
people you love will last, you make what amends you can.

As the theater that employs both Griffin and Jane is the Stratford
Theater, home of Canada's Shakespeare Festival, it is no accident
that Shakespeare is all over this novel. The theater is putting on
"Richard III" and "Much Ado About Nothing," and it is important to
remember these plays' lessons regarding ambition and sexual
misunderstanding. The theatrical setting and Mr. Findley's clear
affection for the people who work in it might remind readers of his
countryman, Robertson Davies, another writer who often wrote about
the Canadian theater.

It takes a very strong novel to achieve all this. Shakespeare's
plays tend to show up weaker works for what they are, and it's very
telling that SPADEWORK covers similar territory and does not suffer
at all in comparison. It is a mature, enjoyable novel that
satisfies on every level.

This is not Timothy Findley's first fictional foray into the
theater world. Interested readers may want to look into THE
BUTTERFLY PLAGUE, a studied contrast of bright Hollywood and the
dark future of Europe in 1938.

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on January 23, 2011

by Timothy Findley

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060194723
  • ISBN-13: 9780060194727