Reviewed: April 29, 2008
By: Timothy Taylor
Publisher: Vintage Canada
424 pages, $21.00
It’s fair to warn you that reading this book will familiarize you with
more cooking terms than you ever wanted to know, unless you happen to have an
interest in such things. I haven’t felt quite this swamped since I read
Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale way back when and I found myself getting both
stirred and shaken by a card game I knew nothing about.
Apparently the makers of the film thought Baccarat Chemin de Fe too esoteric
for modern audiences and changed the game to poker to cash in on the current
Stanley Park may also make you wonder just what goes on behind the order counter.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
This is the story of Jeremy Papier, a young chef who has a dream. After his
apprenticeship and training in France. Jeremy discovered his dream, which was
to open a moderate sized restaurant and feature dishes mostly prepared from
local ingredients. Together he and his partner, Jules, have a good deal of success,
as far as the aesthetics of the things are concerned, but Jeremy has no head
at all for money, and manages to get himself involved in what became a credit
card kiting scheme and run up a great deal of debt.
Was this inevitable given that the restaurant was called The Monkey’s
Paw, which is, of course, the name of a rather famous story in which wishes
come true, but at a terrible price?
Among Jeremy’s circle of acquaintances is Dante Beale, an entrepreneur
who runs a chain of coffee shops under the trademark of, what else, the Inferno.
Living up to his name (which has to be a play on Beelzebub) Dante comes to Jeremy’s
rescue and bails him out, but the cost to his soul and his relationship with
Jules is quite tremendous and Jeremy has to decide what to do about all of that.
None of this is where the book gets its name. Jeremy’s father more or
less lives in Stanley Park, camping out and living with the homeless people
who dwell in the hidden places there. It’s not that Professor Papier has
no choice. No, he’s a very eccentric anthropologist and he’s engaged
in some participant observation amongst the squatters, learning their ways,
studying and practising their methods of survival, and recording their folklore.
Jeremy tends to think he’s gone native, and perhaps he’s not too
far wrong about that. Both father and son have their obsessions and are more
alike that either of them cares to realize. They haven’t communicated
well since the death of Jeremy’s mother some years earlier, but all that
is about to change. Indeed, the opening scene of the novel is of their first
regular meeting at Lost Lagoon and there are many more after that.
Part of the Professor’s study has to do with the urban folklore surrounding
two small children, two boys, whose skeletons were found in the park, covered
by a woman's fur coat. This part of the novel s based on a the real life Babes
in the Woods murders. The bodies were uncovered in 1953 and the mystery has
never been solved. One of the reasons seems to be that they were initially though
to be a boy and a girl, though testing later revealed otherwise.
You can read a brief account of this case on a number of websites, but the one
that seems to apply to the book best is a reading club site from the Carnegie
Community Centre in downtown Vancouver: http://carnegie.vcn.bc.ca/index.pl/readingclub.
I didn’t look at any of it until after I’d read the book. It was
interesting to see how Taylor wove the actual story into his novel. Apparently
he’d been going to make up something similar for the book and stumbled
across this real murder while researching Stanley Park.
Given Jeremy’s predilection for becoming fixating on things and people
it came as no surprise to me when he developed an obsession with the culinary
habits of the park’s denizens, as introduced to him by his father. It’s
a hunter-gatherer society in there, and the park is just crammed with birds
and animals ready to be harvested.
How all this comes together so that Jeremy gets his life back is a trick that
I will not reveal here, but it’s a nice trick. It undoes his deal with
the devil and gets him back on the right track.
Taylor has enough plot threads weaving in and out of each other here that you
sometimes end up annoyed when he leaves one thread dangling and moves to another,
but the different parts are good enough that you feel the same way when he drops
the next thread and moves on, and when that happens, you know you’re reading
a good book. This one was.
Stanley Park was a Giller Prize finalist the year it came out and was winner
of the 2007 Canada Reads competition on C.B.C. Radio.