Noble Sanctuary

by Scot Morison


273 pages

Noble Sanctuary, as the cover so loudly proclaims, is the inaugural winner of the Alberta New Fiction Competition. Nothing earth-shattering here; Alberta seems to create a new prize every time a novelist sprouts from her poetic soil. This particular award, however, is given by Scot Morison’s current employer, the Alberta Multiculturalism Department. This should be enough to tip off cynical bureaucrat-watchers that Noble Sanctuary was chosen more for political correctness than literary quality; and, despite the best efforts of the publicists to disguise the fact, it’s quite clear that in this particular case the cynics are very right.

The plot of Noble Sanctuary is simple, in a twisted sort of way. Geoff, an aggressively normal real-estate salesman from Vancouver, lives his happy life in perfect, exaggerated insularity. He drinks a bit too much, for no apparent reason, but otherwise lives in a sort of Beaver Cleaver-esque haze. He’s got a girlfriend, he plays hockey, he sells houses — sort of a West Coast good ol’ boy.

Suddenly, he meets the mysterious Nadya — we know she’s mysterious because she doesn’t say much, but smiles wistfully a lot — and falls madly in love.

Nadya’s a Palestinian biochemist at UBC, and on the few occasions she speaks, she discusses the plight of her homeland in earnest tones which make Geoff quiver all over. Suddenly, the morning after a particularly earnest discussion, Nadya disappears. When Geoff discovers that she’s gone back to her village in Lebanon, he quite understandably leaves his life in Canada and runs off to the Middle East. Once he’s smuggled into Lebanon, at the height of the Israeli invasion, he makes some incredible discoveries: first, that war is bad; second, that the Palestinians are good; and, finally, that the Israelis are very bad indeed.

If the above sounds simplistic, it’s because the novel as a whole is in fact a very simple polemic. This is an amazing creation: a novel written in Alberta by an Anglo-Saxon Canadian which becomes very quickly an Anti-Zionist tract. The Israelis are all brutes or fools, the Palestinians are all noble suffering saints. All characters, including the protagonist, are so sketchily drawn as to be caricatures; when this is used for political purpose, the result is actually offensive.

Geoff’s transformation is marked by scenes of dead Palestinian babies and brutal Israeli generals. There’s nothing better than a well-drawn political novel, but there’s a fundamental dishonesty at the core of the book: the same chapter contains both a condemnation of Menachem Begin for his early days as a terrorist and a partial defense of the Palestinians who instigated the massacre at the Munich Olympics. Such blatant partisanship leaves a bad taste of intellectual fraud, and certainly won’t help convert anyone to Morison’s cause.

Morison is, however, a competent writer, in a breathless and hurried sort of way. His prose has the sketchy style of some Science Fiction — the impression is that he’s got so much to say that he can’t be bothered saying it fancy. This book is about ideas, and the narrative is only a prop to keep these ideas afloat. The narrative is sufficient to keep the ideas flowing, and Morison knows how to create a scene. The problem is still with the obvious bias in the novel. Morison’s book is enough to interest the reader in the problems of the Palestinian area, but rather than make you want to keep reading, Morison makes you want to go out and read up on the Middle East — in someone else’s book.