The Mask in Place: Essays on Fiction in North America


164 pages
ISBN 0-88801-074-5





Reviewed by Alvan Bregman

Alvan Bregman Ph.D., M.L.S. lived in Toronto.


The Mask in Place, the prolific George Bowering’s latest collection of critical essays, is offered to present Canadian literature in a North American context. As well, the essays are arranged on a rough “thread leading from pre-realism through realism to post-realism” (p.2). Discussions of single works or groups of works by one author are interspersed by general, theoretical excursions on modernism and post-modernism.

Bowering everywhere has a tendency to overstate his case and to overvalue a work on author. His best writing is insightful and illuminating, if somewhat randomly ordered. Into this category fall “That Fool of a Fear: Notes on A Jest of God” and “On the Road & the Indians at the End.” His worst efforts involve a certain amount of posturing, where his prose style coyly imitates that of the author under examination, as in “That Was Ida Said Miss Stein.” Most important are his theoretical essays, which make a case for a post-modern fiction free of the tyrannies of plot, character, setting and theme, and so more attuned to creating “a verbal surface, a linguistically interesting surface” (p. 125), a more poetical artefact, and to emphasizing the book itself as object. The case, however, is asserted far more than logically argued, and the (perhaps unwanted) implication of Bowering’s view is to elevate in importance writing that is clever but essentially superficial. Bowering’s presentation mirrors this, with his unnecessary and annoying habits of using ampersands instead of the word “and,” of using “t” instead of “ed” to end past participles, and of his self-conscious fracturing of sentence structure to attain a casual, non-essayistic tone.

For all these negative points, this is a stimulating and challenging collection of essays by a central figure in the contemporary literary scene. Anyone seriously interested in Canadian literature will want to read this book.


Bowering, George, “The Mask in Place: Essays on Fiction in North America,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 22, 2024,