've never met this Robert Forde character before, but he does have a certain charm. He is honest to himself and struggling through the motions of being human. Forde feels a lot like the character's of David Lodge's Small World and other university novels. They're characters you like because of their mannerisms and misgivings.
In this short novella we follow Forde from Ottawa to a Literary and Cultural Association meeting in Slovenia. He is going to meet his friend in letters, Karla. Forde's wife has a few things to say about this trip, but they're mostly cynical pokes at Forde's ego and ways. You get the sense that Forde is known for getting close to trouble, but rarely getting so far into it that he can't get out.
Characters like Forde are rarities these days. While Metcalf is a solid writer and Forde an amusing creation, this story rings of a certain mindset and era. In other words, I can't imagine a writer thirty years Metcalf's junior coming up with something like this. It is naughty but restrained, witty but a little forced.
I read the book on a sunny Saturday. It was one of those rare days once every few years when I decide to do absolutely nothing but noodle around the city with a backpack of goodies. On a day like this, Forde Abroad was a short and welcome amusement. I was about to suggest the book doesn't hold up beyond this - however, as I write this review and flip through the book I again find myself caught up in Metcalf's prose.
My only serious criticism is aimed at the publisher. I agree with Dean Allen's critique of the Porcupine's Quill book design in his essay Book Design in Canada. He suggests that the press "oddly combines splendid interior typography, paper and binding with brutally dissonant and anachronistic cover design." Although Allen wrote this three years ago it is still a valid criticism. I've always loved the feeling and experience of reading Porcupine's Quill books, but have always been repelled by their cover design.
While we should follow the adage to not judge a book by its cover, we invariably do it when faced with bookstore shelves lined with attractively designed packages. The Porcupine's Quill should seriously consider putting as much effort into the outside of the package (or spending the cash and outsourcing the design) as they do on the inside. I was going to say that it might help them sell books, but I don't really know if that's true in the difficult world of Canadian publishing.
Regardless of the fact that I'm always accosted by their book covers Porcupine's Quill texts are quite often enjoyable reads written by quality writers. Books like Forde Abroad confirm this. It is a pleasant one-sit-down read despite of the ugly, yet appropriate, photo of a crane on the front cover.
published by Porcupine's Quill Press