The Custodian of Paradise


510 pages
ISBN 0-676-97815-0
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by R. Gordon Moyles

R. Gordon Moyles is professor emeritus of English at the University of
Alberta. He is co-author of Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities:
British Views of Canada, 1880–1914, author of The Salvation Army and
the Public, and editor of “Improved by Cult


When reviewers of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1998) lavished their
praise on Wayne Johnston’s creation of Sheilagh Fielding, calling her
one of the most original and compelling characters in recent Canadian
fiction, it seemed inevitable that he would respond by writing a novel
solely about her. And here we have it. Now middle-aged, crippled from a
bout of TB, and an incipient alcoholic, Fielding chooses to live on an
uninhabited island off the coast of Newfoundland, there to muse on her
past, exorcize her demons, and confront the skeletons in her two massive
trunks. She does this mainly by recalling her associations with D.W.
Prowse and Joey Smallwood, the birth and relinquishment of her two
children, her years in New York, and her verbal battles with the St.
John’s establishment. She does so, also, by reading (and obviously
letting us read) many letters from various people, including her
mysterious provider, which illuminate her sorry condition. That about
sums up the plot, which is unfortunate because the obsessive
introspection, the reliance on second-hand reports, and the abandoned
village she has occupied (no doubt symbolic) make for a much-less
interesting novel. The brilliantly sarcastic reporter is now an
angst-ridden recluse, and given that many of her witticisms seem
contrived (the author’s hand too heavy, we think), the whole is rather
tedious. Take nothing away from Johnston: he is a superb writer. It’s
just that, in this case, we have had too much of a good thing.


Johnston, Wayne., “The Custodian of Paradise,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,