The Puppeteer


266 pages
ISBN 0-394-22037-4
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Dennis Denisoff

Dennis Denisoff teaches English at McGill University and is the author
of Dog Years.


Over the years, Kroetsch has become one of Canada’s most highly
respected authors, a principal source of this respect having been his
consistent experimentation with forms, themes, and genres. If this
criterion is used as a standard by which to evaluate The Puppeteer,
Kroetsch’s latest novel may very well be his most important work to

The various events in The Puppeteer, a mixture of madcap detective
fiction, avant-garde juxtaposition, and vintage Kroetsch, take place in
such diverse locales as a Vancouver attic, a tourist hotspring in
Nelson, B.C., and a small island in the Mediterranean. Any attempt to
summarize the plot, however, will prove inadequate, since the most
intriguing aspect of the book is its complex yet economical narrative
structure. Consisting of interwoven threads of subterfuge and detection,
the plot is formed around a number of enigmatic personalities and
equally enigmatic objects, including puppets, pizza, a wedding dress,
and 15 religious icons. Creating further complexity for his readers,
Kroetsch unapologetically inserts additional, partial narratives into
the already complex plethora of interrelations.

Readers of The Puppeteer do not shift from a state of confusion to one
of comprehension, with all the elements introduced throughout the book
finally fitting into a master scheme. Though this formula coincides with
the metaphor of the author as a puppeteer manipulating the readers,
Kroetsch’s novel works in a more complicated and liberating way. From
quite early on in the text, readers are led to accept a state of only
semi-comprehension. The desire to fit every element into a master scheme
is lost, while the pleasure of the text, or the pleasure of exploring
it, remains strong. Kroetsch, as puppeteer, loosens the strings with
which he controls the readers, allowing them to try out their own legs
and to sing, like newly awakened Pinocchios, “there are no strings on
me!” The readers’ awareness of their noncomprehension of, and
distrust in, any “true” story becomes a catalyst for their own
creative release.


Kroetsch, Robert., “The Puppeteer,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,