Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 31, 2009

Spadework, by Timothy Findley

SpadeworkNo, I wasn’t imagining it.  The repeated references to a certain brand of a rather ordinary Australian wine, and later on, a brand of soup, are intrusive examples of ‘product placement’ in this book.  It’s listed amongst a roll call of other books that have succumbed to this shabby practice on Library Thing.  I’m appalled because Timothy Findley (1930-2002)  is a favourite of mine, and I cannot imagine what it was that possessed him to do it.

Spadework isn’t a particularly good book anyway, and I’m glad it wasn’t the first I’d read by this author.  I discovered Findley in Paris in 2001, at the Galignani English language bookshop when I’d run out of books to read.  It had been a frustrating week in Paris, with all the public museums on strike for our entire stay, so when I found a copy of Famous Last Words, I spent my last morning loafing in bed reading it, much to The Spouse’s dismay.  It was an excellent book, and so are the others I’ve read: The Wars; and Not Wanted on the Voyage. 

Spadework, however, is a rather dubious mystery novel which seems to have succumbed not only to product placement but also to irritating staccato dialogue and a daft and incoherent plot.  It features a theatrical family struggling with issues of sexuality, guilt, and repression,  and there are irrelevant judgemental references to the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal and the way Americans let themselves be diverted by it.  It seems as if the entire novel is written in order for Findley to score a few points, get this and that off his chest, and make a few extra quid on the side.

The cover design by Pentagram is horrible too. Subtle as a sledgehammer.

A pity…


  1. Product placement eh? I remember when the renowned author Fay Weldon succumbed to this in her novel The Bulgari Connection (a book by the way which fell far below her usual standards). I think I’d throw a book across the room if I came across it!


    • It’s really cumbersome – the constant references to the wine in particular, (which I shall not indulge by naming it), break up the flow of the text because the dialogue just doesn’t sound natural. And Findley is such a great writer – what on earth happened to make him sink so low I do not know….


  2. Oh I dont think I could read this for the cover alone, its a bit freaky and would bother me. Sounds a little like the cover is justified to the contents of the book though.


  3. An unpleasant cover for an unpleasant book….


  4. I take “Spadework” as a novel that deals with the play of power in familial and art fields. Griffin submits himself to the evil motives of his stage director, Crawford, to get a good role in his play. He goes to the extent of disregarding his wife, Jane, their son and their cosy family surroundings. Agnewska resists the proper medical treatment for her son because she is suppressed by the religious doctrine she believes.Findley has succeeded in presenting web-like presence of power in all walks of life.


    • I don’t disagree with that, Alex – but it’s not really very original. The casting couch has been around for a while, and the power of religious nutters have always been fair game in fiction. But even if the theme were original, the delivery is poor. All those heavy breathing dialogues, the saintly Mercy – IMO it’s more like a first novel than the final work of a very talented man.


Leave a Reply to Lisa Hill Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: