Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 8, 2008

Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984), by Timothy Findley

not-wanted-on-the-voyageBest of my BBRLM for June 08  was Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findlay. Carol has mentioned this Canadian writer – I discovered him in the English language bookshop in Paris on my first trip and have enjoyed everything he’s written so far. NWONTV is a fictionalised (and somewhat blasphemous) account of the Ark (as in Noah’s), showing all the problems and jealousies and discomforts and downright unChristian values that underpin the story.  Yahweh is a cantankerous old fool, selfish, demanding and disagreeable. He has a hissy fit about his Edicts not being followed and so he sends the flood…

But says Timothy Findlay, Noah and Mrs Noyes did not just meekly garner the animals and blithely sail away. She was fed up with Noah and his demanding god, and annoyed about having to cater for his retinue when he came to lay down the law. The women always have to do all the work while the priests fuss about with ceremonies and sacrifices. It wasn’t as easy as the bible implies, to gather them together and get them to go on board. And Noah, once on board, takes a fancy to Shem’s wife, and divides the ark into two, with the ‘lower orders’ downstairs.

So Mrs N, her son Ham and his wife Lucy (who was really Lucifer in disguise) and Emma, the unwilling child bride of Japeth are down below, tending the beasts and hiding Mrs N’s stowaway pregnant cat and a crow. Sister Hannah, Noah and Japeth are upstairs, in charge, with the best of everything and raiding the larder downstairs when food becomes scarce.

Parts of this story are wickedly funny, but it’s also a powerful portrait of the fragility of family, of doubt, temptation, greed, and the power relations between men and women. The scene where Mrs N nearly drowns in the raging waters when she goes to the rescue of Emma’s intellectually disabled sister (who is most definitely not wanted on the voyage) is extraordinary: I can almost feel the cold water trickling down the back of my neck as I write this.

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