Peter Behrens, The Law of Dreams

Currently reading Peter Behrens’ The Law of Dreams, having recently finished his The O’Briens. So I’m doing things backwards (The Law of Dreams I should have read first): what else is new?

I have to say, while his novel is of course a work of imaginative fiction (though apparently loosely based on his own family’s history), Behrens’ depiction of the Pontiac County Irish in The O’Briens  strikes me as uncannily accurate, and all but “real.” His account of Irish strivers in Montreal in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s also has that quality of “could almost be real.”

Of The Law of Dreams, I am not so certain when it comes to the question of historical accuracy. Well, a novelist is not a historian, obviously, and the novel is under no obligation to provide documented proof of the verisimilitude of its representations.

The famine/hunger chapters at the beginning of The Law of Dreams are possibly the best depiction I’ve yet to come across of the Irish Famine, and never mind the documents: they have the quality of a nightmare, where it all seems screw-y and off-base, and yet you fear it’s all too real. These chapters are almost a form of poetry. The subsequent, post-Famine, adventures of Fergus O’Brien (as an almost-“pearl boy” in Liverpool, for example) strike me as basically romantic Oy-rishness in their picaresque quality, though great fun to read. Peter Behrens is a great storyteller.

The best damn fiddler…

Reading Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens, I was reminded (because of the novel’s character of Mick Heaney, a drunkard and a degenerate, and an Ottawa Valley fiddler) of a film I watched many years ago: The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar.

Not that Emery Prometer (the main character of the film, and also a hard-drinking Ottawa Valley fiddler) is anywhere near as awful as the lecherous and child-molesting Mick Heaney. Prometer is not awful at all, really (or not like that, not like Heaney), though he’s certainly an irresponsible husband and father. The film depicts him as a lovable ne’er-do-well, a sympathetic, though obviously flawed, character.

The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar by Peter Pearson, National Film Board of Canada.


Currently reading (and greatly enjoying) Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens. Probably the only novel I’ve ever read that begins with the Famine Irish of Pontiac County, Québec. Up the Pontiac!