Sussex Drive by Linda Svendsen is one fun novel. As the name indicates, it is a political satire set in the hallowed halls of Ottawa’s elite.The story is set in 2008 and melds together aspects of recent history that we recognize (ie. the election of Obama, the proroguing of Parliment and the rise of the right in Canada) with a perhaps less plausible alternative history (GG reports to King Charles). In its telling the story focuses primarily on two female power brokers – Becky, the brash and pushy wife of the PM, and Lise, the somewhat controversial immigrant GG. Perhaps because of this point of view the reader also gets a peak at how the personal lives of these VIPs and their children are manipulated by the political machine.
Two things that i really appreciated about the novel were the use of language and the prominence of women. As is befitting the bilingual environment of Ottawa and the parliamentary millieu, the characters switch back and forth between English and French as they speak. This is done effortlessly by some and with a little bit more struggling by others. As a reader, however, I think it is clear what is being said without knowledge of French. Secondly, the women in Sussex Drive are very complex characters juggling the concerns of public and private life. The men, on the other hand, are somewhat one dimensional. The GG, who is modeled on Michaelle Jean, is a sensitive arbiter of power put in a number of very awkward situations by the conservative First Family. Becky, the PM’s wife, is a manipulative behind the scenes force, who ultimately steers the direction of the government. By drawing on these two characters Svendsen gives the reader a different view of Ottawa from the one we are used to.
Overall Svendsen has written a very interesting and intriguing look at politics in Canada. It is not the most staggeringly beautiful piece of Canadian literature, but it is a fun, humorous page turner.
Who would like this book? Anyone interested in (Canadian) political satire. Sussex Drive exists in the same vein as Terry Fallis‘ Ottawa based satires. Politically speaking, I think it would appeal to left leaning readers, but it is hard for me to judge for sure. The political right might like it too if they are willing to laugh at themselves. There seems to be a trend towards buying political books for one’s dad, but this one would definitely appeal to a mother as well.