Sarah Bastard's Notebook

Description

194 pages
$21.95
ISBN 1-897178-12-3
DDC C813'.54

Publisher

Year

2006

Contributor

Reviewed by Lynne Perras

Lynne Perras teaches communication arts at the University of Calgary.

Review

Marian Engel’s daughter, Charlotte Engel, has re-released her
mother’s first novel, Sarah Bastard’s Notebook, originally published
in 1968 under the title No Clouds of Glory. The book takes the form of a
stream-of-consciousness journal written by its protagonist, 30-year-old
English professor Sarah Porlock.

Sarah is facing a crisis of sorts: her father has died; her sister’s
husband Sandro, with whom she has had an affair, has left; her friend
and lover Joe has returned to his wife; and her teaching job no longer
interests her. Neither the traditional role of wife and mother nor the
life of a single academic appeals to her. Through flashbacks, Sarah
recalls her childhood as one of four daughters and the romances she
later experienced, one resulting in an abortion. She struggles with her
resentment of her most beautiful sister, her unfulfilling existence as
an academic, her regrets about her abortion, and her disdain of the
Canadian literary scene. What she is going to become is inextricably
linked to where she will reside, and ultimately she must decide whether
to remain in Canada or live overseas.

Engel’s first effort reveals her skill as a novelist. Sarah is a
believable and compelling (if not particularly likable) character. At
times Engel’s literary references seem contrived and overdone. The
novel is definitely dated, as Sarah inhabits a world where having both a
doctorate and a family is almost unheard of, a woman is a spinster if
she hasn’t married by the age of 30, and Canada is a dull, insulated
country that is inhabited mostly by dull, white Christians.

Despite its flaws, Sarah Bastard’s Notebook is valuable as an early
feminist novel and a reminder of how far both women and Canada have come
in terms of their liberation. It also strongly foreshadows the aptitude
for fiction that Engel went on to demonstrate in her later works.

Citation

Engel, Marian., “Sarah Bastard's Notebook,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16946.