Class still keeps a low profile in Canada. But money, and the power it purchases, talks as loudly here as elsewhere, if generally from behind closed doors. Jonathan Bennett’s second novel isn’t raising the volume on establishment chatter. Instead, this is a smart, nervy exploration of how class quietly rules, and one that opts to contrast and compare with another upper crust from another nation of purposeful whisperers.
Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited provides the British frame for Bennett’s Canadian house. There is the wealthy but dysfunctional family — the Flytes in Waugh, the Aspinalls in Entitlement — and the outsider planted among their dissolute offspring. Andy Kronk, a hockey-playing teen-ager from Scarborough, takes Charles Ryder’s interloper role, while in place of Sebastian Flyte stands Colin Aspinall, lost boy of the private school set. There is even the siren sister, in this instance the lovely, heartless Fiona.
Biographer Trudy Clarke, under contract to expose the secretive Toronto clan, bridges past and present with her queries, especially during her after-the-fact interview with Kronk, now a dropout lawyer holed up in cottage country. Patriarch Stuart Aspinall blocks all intrusions and intruders, using a cop for hire as muscle. Bennett’s storytelling is effortless in its pace and time shifts, and his dialogue glints like a sharpened knife. The ending, though a little pat, puts that blade to work.
Entitlement vivisects the ways of power in Canada. The issue of class in Brideshead Revisited is almost a misdirection; Waugh is mostly interested in faith and guided by sentimentality. He also rends no castles of privilege asunder. In contrast, Jonathan Bennett has both destruction and preservation in mind for the New World Aspinalls, literally pulling down the house they have built. At the same moment, he ensures their survival through the successful burying of bodies and the cynical co-opting of the Andy Kronks of society by the elite. All very hush-hush, and effective. All very Canadian? Too few of our novelists ask such rude questions.