Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Canadian Bacon?

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels

Edward St. Aubyn, Bad News (The Patrick Melrose Novels) (2003)

Bad News, the second novel in the original Patrick Melrose trilogy, picks up the story of Patrick, now 22, over the course of a week-end in New York, where he has gone to collect the ashes of his father and spends most of his time searching for and taking a harrowing smorgasbord of drugs. At this point in the trilogy I began to experience the sad sensation of diminishing returns: extended, simile-laden descriptions of drug injection become tedious pretty quickly, and there’s really not a lot else here. The devices by which Patrick encounters several of the characters from the first novel (all, coincidentally, in New York at the same time he is) become a little creaky; this problem grows even more pronounced in the third novel, Some Hope, which, like Never Mind, centres around a single day and a single party, at which almost every character from the first two novels is present, as well as some new ones.

Bad News does, however, contain a second reference to Canada:

Patrick hung up the phone and glanced at the clock. Six-thirty-five. He ordered Canadian bacon, fried eggs, toast, porridge, stewed fruit, orange juice, coffee, and tea. (225)

Canadian bacon (which can mean either peameal or back bacon) is apparently regarded quite highly by some Americans: check out the Real Canadian Bacon Co., which specializes in importing Canadian bacon (peameal in this case), “the finest gourmet meat available from Canada.” (It’s a bit sad to think the finest gourmet meat we offer is bacon. Not our Alberta steaks? Our Ontario lamb? Our wild Pacific salmon? (Does salmon count as meat?))

And on the next page:

Patrick’s breakfast was devastated without being eaten … rashers of bacon hung on the edge of a plate smeared with egg yolk…. (226)

So what exactly has Patrick ordered? In the U.S., “Canadian bacon” can mean either peameal or back bacon; but the word “rasher” in the second quote strikes me as more suggestive of back than peameal, though I’m not sure why. In the end it may not be possible, based on the references in the book, to determine a) what St. Aubyn himself means by Canadian bacon, or b) what the New York hotel at which Patrick orders the meal would mean by Canadian bacon. St. Aubyn himself is British, so the curious can peruse this rather exhaustive (not to say exhausting) survey of what exactly bacon means to the British.

To return to the point: what does this say about St. Aubyn’s views on Canada and Canadians? It seems we’ve gone from lumberjacks to producers of bacon; not what I would call making massive strides in the imagination of the world. Canada remains, in the mind of St. Aubyn, a nation devoted to providing products for the consumption of others.

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