Monday, April 11, 2011

BOOK: Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson

Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson, 182 pages

Gothic Reading Challenge; 4th Canadian Reading Challenge; Once Upon a Time

I remember listening to Bill Richardson on CBC one summer in the early 90s. I had a job where I had to drive around to different job sites, and his program, Crosswords was a wonderful show to listen to while I drove. Listeners from across Canada, and the world, would write letters and Bill would read them, and play some wonderfully eclectic music. Very CBC. I later read his delightfully funny Bachelor Brothers Bed and Breakfast,{reviewed here by eva at a striped armchair and here by Nan at letters from a hill farm) so when I saw this book come up in my library search for Gothic read, I knew I would be reading it. After the fact, I think it could count as a Once Upon a Time book, as surely, cats talking makes it fantasy?

In the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris, there are oodles of famous dead people. Imagine, as Bill Richarson did, if they were reincarnated as cats, and the cats still lived in the cemetery. So there would be Jim Morrison, the silent, brooding tomcat exceedingly well-endowed; Sarah Bernhardt, the dramatic actress; Maria Callas, the singing diva; Marcel Proust, the sleeping private detective; Oscar Wilde, being Oscar and infatuated with Jim Morrison and Chopin is the postman who delivers the letters to the cats. And Alice B Toklas, who is waiting for her love and husband, Gertrude Stein to arrive at the cemetery, translated.  So it's a graveyard gothic, but also a touch comedic, because it is Richardson after all, and he can't turn that off.

There was never such a ratter as Sarah Bernhardt.

So, the book was fun. It made me wish I knew more about many of the characters. Richardson has each cat write and speak distinctively, so I liked some cat's voices more than others. The concept is so unique, and the love between Alice and Gertrude comes through. (Memo to self - find one of their books to read?) The first part of the book introduces all the characters and sets the scene. The second part of the book develops a bit of a plot - objects are going missing, and the cats are putting on a revue. With a concept book, the first while was just the fun of seeing how it all worked. Then the mystery arrived and the action picked up. And then it ended.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the poetry, and the fun Richardson has with his writing. Play on words abound, plus, nearly each character gets a poem as part of La Fontaine's Versified Walking Tours:

Attention, please, cats square and hep-
Before we take another step,
May I address a word to those
Who'd rather have their tour in prose;
Who'd rather hears dogs caterwaul
Than hear a cat spout doggerel.