Book Review: Leaving Tomorrow

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I devoured The Age of Hope in one giant gulp last year and just loved it, I loved the voice of Hope and I loved the journey Bergen took us throughout Hope’s life. So when I saw a new Bergen was coming out, I quickly requested it at the WPL. When I had it in my hot little hands, I then noticed that Goodreads ratings for this title were abysmal. Most complained it was pretentious. (But then, the GR ratings for all of Bergen’s books are not that stellar, so I’m assuming he’s a matter of taste for most readers?)

Well, yes, perhaps Arthur’s voice is a touch pretentious, after all, he is beginning to narrate his story to us from the womb and describes his birth with great detail, but I found his wry narration to be amusing. Certainly, I found his father’s dry humour appealing, and laughed out loud with his quips on wooing Arthur’s mother. I smiled at Arthur’s mother’s ease with which she dismissed the early attentions of Arthur’s father. I felt sorrow for the loss of his older sister, Em, his mother’s continuing grief over it, and was highly amused at the story behind the keeping of Arthur’s mother’s maiden name as the family name. All of these emotions were felt in the first 17 pages. Therefore, for me, it looked like Bergen’s Leaving Tomorrow was going to be another highly enjoyed read.

Oh for certain, Arthur’s voice induces many eye rolls as he expounds on his natural ability for just about everything, “I had a natural ability for drawing, just as I had a natural sense for whatever I put my mind to: arc welding, breaking horses, creating the perfect béchamel sauce, architecture. At the age of fifteen, when I visited my neurologist, I had decided that this would be the career for me, the exploration of the brain and the temporal lobe and the middle cranial fossa, et cetera, et cetera – as it related to auditory and visual experience.” (pg. 68)

Arthur is such a pompous and self-important ass and is too wise for his years, and I know that in any other writer’s hands I’m certain I would have tossed this book into the wall, but there was just something about Bergen’s Arthur that so endeared me to him, I just loved reading this story.

After falling from a horse and breaking his leg, he spends months in traction and develops a deep love for reading, and in particular French authors and in particular, Flaubert. Of Flaubert, he says “What a fine and incisive mind. What a resemblance to my own life, my own ideas, my world.” (p. 75.)

Arthur longs to leave Tomorrow and around the time he does leave it for France, the story does wander aimlessly with Arthur not quite finding the happiness and identity he was so assured he would find there, amongst his supposed intellectual equals. Arthur remains a confused young man, and finds he doesn’t really fit in there in France either. We do see him pining for the one true love of his “cousin” (Isobel is adopted) and beginning perhaps to understand that as small as Tomorrow may be for him, it is his home.

Leaving Tomorrow sort of quickly comes to a close with Arthur returning home, and attempting to resolve his differences with his family, but nothing too significant happens. Overall, it was a satisfying and quick read. I will continue to reach for Bergen as he does draw some wonderful and fully realized characters.

“One of the great pleasures of reading, especially reading done on a ranch in Alberta by a young boy who wants more, is the possibility of other lives, the possibility of extending one’s arm and being pulled through the curtain onto a stage where Swann is in love and Emma rides her carriage in circles through the city with the blinds drawn, and Joyce’s hapless boy is infatuated with Mangan’s sister, for whom he will buy a trinket at the market.” (pg. 73.)

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