My Two Cents

Today’s Review: I’ll See You in My Dreams, by William Deverell

by Nov 16, 2011Reviews, Writers1 comment

A handful of characters make me laugh out loud, fret over their anxieties, and cheer them on as they struggle to win a trophy at the Island Fair, or seek justice against extreme odds. Arthur Beauchamp, famous barrister, insecure husband, and unwilling but fated accomplice in his quirky neighbours’ schemes, is among them.

William Deverell is a talented writer, with a well-honed sense of humour, and the ability to weave plot and theme seamlessly. Put a writer with Deverell’s wit and skill together with a character like Arthur Beauchamp, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a solid, entertaining novel.

Deverell delivers much more. His fifth Arthur Beauchamp novel, I’ll See You in My Dreams, is outstanding.

The novel moves between the present day (when Arthur is retired on Garibaldi Island), and 1962, when 25-year old Arthur defends Gabriel Swift, an outspoken aboriginal graduate of the residential school system, who is accused of murdering his mentor.  Arthur faces a top prosecutor, a difficult judge, uncooperative witnesses, a reticent client, and his own insecurities as he battles to save his client’s life.

In addition to Gabriel’s story, this is a story of the things that formed Arthur Beauchamp. And his story is very human: humorous, frustrating, occasionally heart wrenching.

One of the things Deverell does well is show a character’s contrasts. He illustrates Arthur’s make-up through his interaction with other characters – Arthur imagines himself a bohemian and hangs around with hipsters, but can’t understand their lingo; he yearns after hot women, yet when a tryst may be imminent he experiences sudden dizziness “followed by a panicky cold sweat.”

By contrasting Arthur with Gabriel, Deverell reveals Arthur’s enduring dichotomy.  He is a skilled young barrister, touted as the “best throat on the coast.” Yet where Gabriel is self-confident, Arthur is not; where Gabriel knows what he believes in, Arthur does not. The man who is so comfortable in the courtroom finds life outside its doors challenging, perhaps baffling.

This novel is outstanding for many reasons – excellent writing, a complex and realistic plot, and fully rounded characters.  It is an insightful look at the conservative and biased British Columbia of the early 1960s – a time when Lenny Bruce’s comedy routine at a nightclub could make the Morality Squad come knocking, when smear campaigns included the word “communist”, and when society was disinterested in listening to upstarts like Gabriel Swift and his wet-behind-the-ears lawyer.

There is much in the novel that is serious and thought provoking, yet much will make you laugh out loud. Particularly when the story returns to 2011 – where Arthur’s command of events in a courtroom remains in direct opposition to his private life, and his Island neighbours are able to best him at almost every turn. From his perennial struggle to keep his beloved ’69 Fargo truck out of rapscallions’ clutches, to his inability to retrieve his mail before the postmaster takes a peek, Arthur is proof that prowess in the big city courtroom doesn’t always travel well across the Strait to fittingly named Blunder Bay.

Enjoy this fine work. And watch for what I hope are hints that Arthur’s next adventure is going to be nothing but trouble. I can’t wait.

I’ll See You in My Dreams is available from McClelland & Stewart.

Reviewed by Charlotte Morganti

1 Comment

  1. Charlotte Morganti

    If you comment on this book – please: NO SPOILERS!

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