Property and Value

By Hugh Hood


249 pages

Where, in a world which sees all areas of human activity, from labour to leisure, from lyric poetry to snack foods, reduced to simple commodities, are true value and values to be found? In an age where all is defined by market worth and marketability, where can an individual find her own value, something in her life to valued for itself? These are the questions subtly posed by Hugh Hood’s affecting new novel, Property and Value.

The eighth instalment in Hood’s projected twelve-novel series “The New Age,” Property and Value presents us with characters striving, in a world which sees them merely as property to be bought and sold, to create something truly meaningful and valuable for themselves. The story of Toronto art historian Matthew Goderich, and his encounter with an aging actress, Linnet Olcott, Hood’s novel is one which deals in very simple terms with the fundamental human need for value and meaning in life—the need for something more than a personal price tag to sustain oneself.

Yet the two main characters seem, as we meet them, all to deprived of any such sustenance. We find Matthew first in his lonely Toronto apartment, a decent but weary man approaching his fiftieth birthday in solitude. Having lived the pas six years in a state of defeated isolation, Matthew is still bound by the painful memory of his wife’s desertion. She has, it turns out, not only cast him aside, but has done so in the successful pursuit of his brother.

But the pain of this abandonment lies not so much in the betrayal and ensuing loneliness which Matthew suffers, but in the incomplete nature of this rupture. For though his wife Edie has, with her departure, effectively eviscerated Matthew’s existence, depriving it of any sustaining love or purpose, she has not made this break final. The two of them have not had a divorce and would seem even after six years’ estrangement to be unable to have one, for, though meaning and love have been extinguished, considerations of property stil bind them and keep Matthew mired in his purgatorial solitude. Matthew, it seems, is the property manager of Edie’s prodigious business interests, interests which would be unprofitably jeopardized by any divorce proceedings. So he simply sits resigned, drawing “a salary from his wife’s family which she is off somewhere being fucked regularly by his own brother.”

Matthew, then, is a defeated character who has lost all that was valuable in his life but who, bound to mere property, persists in an inert and loveless state. So severe is his romantic nonexistence that he is actually plagued by Freudian fears about the nature of his attachment to his own daughter. Yet Matthew, travelling to Venice to prepare Canada’s entry in a world art exhibition, meets someone who offers him an escape from this state, a woman like him in search of some positive value in her life. This is Linnet Olcott, who is in Venice working on a film adaptation of Proust’s Marcel a Venezio. She, like Matthew, has passed her prime and her lovers have left her. She is no longer the beauty she was, no longer a saleable film property, and has been deprived of hope by the disregard not only of those she loves but of those whose professional esteem she requires. She is left to bitterly observe that “demand has nothing to do with artistic excellence” or with anything of true value.

Predictably enough, these two meet and fall swiftly in love, a fall rendered with true skill and warmth by Hood’s understated prose. In this love affair they fill the voids in their respective lives. In their world of wheelers and dealers, of businesspeople and film producers, they succeed in making their lives something more than mere property.

Now this may sound rather mawkish and melodramatic, and indeed, to a certain point, it is. But Hood avoids cloying sentimentality not only by means of a sobering and rather bleak conclusion (yet one which fails to nullify the lasting value of his characters’ union), but also by means of skillful and restrained writing style. Hood never indulges in glowingly approving narrative commentary or syrupy descriptive excess. Rather he offers us simply believable and genuinely likeable characters with whom we can relate and discover the one value, unoriginal though it may be, which Hood wants us to acknowledge. We truly feel for his two protagonists and, together with them, come to see, without any heavy-handed authorial intrusion, the true value of their union. In short, we come to see the true value of love.

So while Property and Value may not be a strikingly original book or a monumental literary achievement, it is still a moving and entertaining novel.