My favourite Montreal book...

The Luck of Ginger Coffey

By William Weintraub

A review of The Luck Of Ginger Coffey by Brian Moore

Published on January 1, 2006

The Luck Of Ginger Coffey
Brian Moore

The Luck of Ginger Coffey, a harrowing tale about the misfortunes of an Irish immigrant in Montreal, was first published in 1960. Its author, Brian Moore, was himself an Irish immigrant. But in the twelve years that Moore had resided in Montreal, the city had been much kinder to him than it had to his hapless hero Ginger Coffey. It was during that period that Moore published his first two novels, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne and The Feast of Lupercal, books that earned international acclaim. Those first novels were set in his native Belfast, but now this third book would be set in Montreal.

Ginger Coffey appeared during that bleak era before the term CanLit was coined. Almost all Canadian novels of the time featured characters that were fashioned out of sturdy plywood. By contrast, Brian Moore’s characters were flesh and blood, and could awaken in the reader strong emotion rather than virtuous cogitation. How we suffered with poor Ginger as he endured his endless humiliations; how we winced with the pain that his obtuseness inflicted on his wife and child.

Besides giving us a vivid collection of characters, and a gripping plot, the book presents us with an unforgettable picture of winter in the Montreal of the era. Ginger Coffey had expected the city to remind him of Paris, but sights like a woman walking along a snowy street, “her head tied up in a babushka,” made him conclude that Montreal was more like Siberia than France. And his immigrant’s eye was intrigued by a taxi, “its tyre chains rattling in the brown sugar slush.”

Reading The Luck of Ginger Coffey again after 45 years confirmed its position as my favourite Montreal novel. And suggested to me that it should be recognized as a Canadian classic. mRb

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