Keith Oatley’s Therefore Choose
Gooselane Editions, 2010

Therefore Choose is a tremendously accessible, memorable and relevant novel from Gooselane.

If you’ve tried one of Keith Oatley’s earlier novels (The Case of Emily V. published in 1993, A Natural History, published in 1998), you might think that a novel from him on WWII might be a bit much; his earlier novels are somewhat demanding — great if you like your drama heavy-on-the-interior, your dialogue on the scanty-side, your prose on the wordy-side — but not for everybody.

His characters are often scholarly (and often female, so given their historical settings, this makes them of interest from a feminist perspective all the same) and Keith Oatley himself is scholarly (a well-published academic with a long list of publications in psych journals and his text books outnumber his novels by far; his earlier works are worthwhile and rewarding with a close read, but they are the kind of books you recommend selectively.

Not so with his third novel, Therefore Choose; I think there are enough consistencies with his earlier fiction to maintain his readership, but I’m sure his new novel will garner Keith Oatley a new readership as well. You can sign me up in the New Reader column, and you can mark me down to read his fourth as well.

Should you be one of these new Keith-Oatley readers is the question. I say, yes, if:

* You’ve enjoyed, or wanted to read, some of the following: Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces, Timothy Findley’s Headhunter or The Wars, Sandra Sabatini’s Dante’s War, Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française.

(Or, you don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, but you’re hooked on either Persephone’s Wartime fiction/non-fiction, or wartime Virago Modern Classics.)

* You enjoy a historical setting that isn’t overly descriptive, one with a clear sense of time and place, but one in which the emphasis is on universal themes, the human condition, all the Big Stuff without all the Little Details about chair-covers and pillow-tassels.

* You like novels in which the bulk of the narrative is interior.
(You’d rather know how a character felt about having joined the army than read a scene set in the registration office stuffed with sensory details.)

* You like a novel with a romance that pulls you through, with heavier themes presented in that context.
(And an old-fashioned romance to boot. Meaning that you like your romances heavy on the monogamy and light on the adultery, though you’re not troubled whether the romance is same-sex or inter-sex.)

* You prefer grey to a preponderance of either black or white.
(You’d rather feel the sting of a character’s unresolvable dilemma than have a string tied into a bow around the literary package.)

Therefore Choose is a memorable read indeed; it reads quickly, but the story lingers.

Have you read this work? Are you keen to try it now?