The Land God Gave to Cain - Q1: What did you think of the book?

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I think that, rather that start a number of discussion threads, I'll try this with just two - one to ask what you thought of the book, and another for gaming applicability.

So, I hear you've read The Land God Gave to Cain by Hammond Innes. Was this your first Innes novel? What did you think of it? In particular, what did you think the strengths of the novel were? The weaknesses? Consider the following:
1. The plot - was it plausible? Was it engaging?
2. The mystery that Fergusson is trying to solve - is it sustained? Is it dramatic?
3. The genre - is this a thriller, or an adventure, or a mystery?
4. The scenery - Does he bring Labrador alive? Is this an exotic location for you? How do you feel about Labrador (or North Shore Quebec, for that matter) after reading it?
5. The characters - Fergusson, Lands, Paule, Laroche, Darcy, Ledder, that other radio operator whose name I forget. Who stands out? Are any well drawn? Poorly drawn.
6. The story of Cain and Abel - The book is so named because explorer Jacques Cartier decribed the barren North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence as "The Land God Gave to Cain". This much is mentioned in the text. Apart from the name, though, does Innes capitalize on the myth? How so?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I think that, rather that start a number of discussion threads, I'll try this with just two - one to ask what you thought of the book, and another for gaming applicability. >

    So, I hear you've read The Land God Gave to Cain by Hammond Innes. Was this your first Innes novel?

    No, I have read several, each excellent!

    What did you think of it? In particular, what did you think the strengths of the novel were? The weaknesses?

    The plot trundles along, and the characters are beautifully drawn. He also is very discreiptive of the land, which is hugely important. Reminds me in this way of LotR.

    Consider the following:
    1. The plot - was it plausible? Was it engaging?

    Plausible enough. I know radio can skip crazily off the ionosphere, especially in the polar lands. It all works. There are a few too many concidences, but nothing major.

    1. The mystery that Fergusson is trying to solve - is it sustained? Is it dramatic?

    Very much! The reader can see ahead of Fergusson - at least I did, but not far ahead. Satisfying!

    1. The genre - is this a thriller, or an adventure, or a mystery?

    Much more an adventure with a touch of mystery, IMO. The adventure is far more important.

    1. The scenery - Does he bring Labrador alive? Is this an exotic location for you? How do you feel about Labrador (or North Shore Quebec, for that matter) after reading it?

    Loved the descriptions and the exquisite care taken to be realistic. I have been in parts of Maine very much like that, and I could vividly see it in my mind's eye.

    1. The characters - Fergusson, Lands, Paule, Laroche, Darcy, Ledder, that other radio operator whose name I forget. Who stands out? Are any well drawn? Poorly drawn.

    I loved all the characters equally! Don't make me choose! Even the little characters are beautifully drawn.

    1. The story of Cain and Abel - The book is so named because explorer Jacques Cartier decribed the barren North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence as "The Land God Gave to Cain". This much is mentioned in the text. Apart from the name, though, does Innes capitalize on the myth? How so?

    It's all about murder and family. :smiley:

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    This was the first Innes book I can remember, but I have a vague recollection of reading others of his in my youth. Can't remember if I did, or what books they may have been. Anyway, I really enjoyed this one! A cracking good read, and the pace kept up.

    @Apocryphal said:
    1. The plot - was it plausible? Was it engaging?
    2. The mystery that Fergusson is trying to solve - is it sustained? Is it dramatic?

    The plot was barely plausible, but it was plausible enough for the book to work. The mystery was more of a McGuffin: it was just an excuse for the adventure in the wilderness, giving Fergusson something to do so he could explore the environment.

    1. The genre - is this a thriller, or an adventure, or a mystery?

    Adventure.

    1. The scenery - Does he bring Labrador alive? Is this an exotic location for you? How do you feel about Labrador (or North Shore Quebec, for that matter) after reading it?

    Definitely the star of the book. Innes did well bringing a sense of place to the book. Not just the environment, but also the people who live and work there, and the effect the environment has on them.

    As @clash_bowley mentioned, the environment and travel within it is a key part of the book, much like Lord of the Rings. It just so happens I'm currently running a game of The One Ring at the local RPG club, and the fit between the journeys in this book, and the mechanics in that game, would be fantastic. But I'll leave more discussion of that to the other thread.

    1. The characters - Fergusson, Lands, Paule, Laroche, Darcy, Ledder, that other radio operator whose name I forget. Who stands out? Are any well drawn? Poorly drawn.

    The characters varied for me. Most were just decent, everyday folk.

    A couple of things strike me as being worthy of more discussion.

    One was the refusal of people to re-open the search for Briffe. What to people think of the reasons for that? Was it because the search itself is risky, and people didn't want to put more lives in danger by continuing a search that was probably fruitless? Was it because of the implicit trust in Laroche's statements, and his honour was placed at least as high as the lives of people who were undertaking a risky adventure? Or was it a callous calculation that people there had a job to do, people die in the wilderness, let's just move on?

    Apart from Laroche, I don't think there was any particular malice in the refusals to restart the search, and Laroche was lying from the best of intentions.

    The other thing is Paule's personality. She's the only significant woman character in the book, and has half-native parentage. She's also almost feral, and described as being most at home in the wilderness. She displays her emotions much more than the male characters, including the professions of love of Laroche which turn into a murderous rage.

    Is this portrayal one of an emotional and unstable woman? A noble savage? Some of both? Is she a "strong" female character in the book?

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    First, I liked it. Definitely.

    Some more detail on that.
    Yes, it was my first Innes novel. I thought the strongest point was the presentation of character - necessarily almost all male because of context, so it was light on female input, but I found the description of the gang of engineers and railway workers very compelling. Likewise the community of radio operators (of which more below)

    Things I found implausible:
    1) I don't think the average airfield construction engineer of the 1950s would be able to survive so well out in the tundra - how would he ever have learned those survival skills?
    2) The constant "I'm not going to tell you what everyone knows about your ancestors" theme got rather grating and implausible. Surely, out of all the people that said "How can you not know", one of them wold have gone on to say, "you mean you don't know it was your grandfather and Laroche's?". That all seemed far too much of an arbitrarily extended plot device.

    The scenery - as mentioned in the other thread, I would have liked some more perspective on Labrador as a place of stark beauty as well as formidability. Maybe the Native American guy could have done that, but his main role was to build up that the Lake of the Lion was not a place you want to go to.

    The radio operators - I was very struck by this community who only ever knew each other by means of Morse Code messages - not even plain text, and almost certainly very abbreviated rather than chatty. And going on from that, the modern communities chatting by abbreviated text-speak. Our own internet community has such a fantastically rich communication channel by comparison - I can even use **bold ** italic or whatever to emphasise my words. But rich text aside, that community was surely the ancestor of our internet groups, and heralded an era where people could interact and grow in friendship without ever once meeting each other.

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    I have a few observations on a re-read. This isn't my favorite Innes book, and this is largely for structural reasons, I suppose. I found it very hard to believe on a few levels - one, that Ferguson should care so much to try and penetrate the mystery, especially since he didn't seem to be particularly aware of the story of his grandfather, or even care that much. He was a bite like a rebel without a cause, and also without a rebellious personality.

    I also don't know why people were so reluctant to talk to him. How many times did someone say "You mean you don't know about your grandfather? Hunh." but then not TELL HIM ABOUT HIS GRANDFATHER. It's as if every character in the book was always mumbling "bur bur bur not my place to say really...." and then walking away.

    And finally, if someone had just taken Ferguson aside early in the book and said "OK, here's the real scoop - we've been keeping it mum to save Paule's feelings and her father's reputation" then it would have been book over. So I feel Innes really drew this one out - he struggled with the plot, but had lots of information about the setting he wanted to get across, so he drew the whole thing out by making the characters either thick (Ferguson) or overly reticent (everyone else).

    Apart from that, I quite liked it. I thought the characters were fairly well drawn, but especially Darcy, the radio operators, and even Paule, on whom more later. Laroche might have been more convincing were he not the main scapegoat for the structural problems.

    There are some ways this book is different from other Innes books I've read. For one thing, most of his heroes are competent but otherwise ordinary men, often sailors, who get stuck in when the going gets sticky. Ferguson isn't like this, though - he's much more passive, and apart from his stubborn determination, there's not much of the action hero about him. He's not the type to take the tiller in a storm, if you know what I mean.

    And most Innes books have one woman, usually the daughter or widow of another important character, who acts as a love interest and tie in for the lead. Paule fits the bill in some ways, but never forms a relationship with the hero, which marks her as different. She's also clearly a woman who can take care of herself and makes her own decisions - this is also rare in an Innes book, where the female characters mostly defer to the heroes. So, because of her (relative) independence, I found I quite liked Paule. I picture her sitting in a dark corner like Strider in the Prancing Pony, cleaning the dirt from her nails with a knife. I wouldn't go so far as to say 'noble savage' though. I don't think she was particularly noble nor savage. Such a person would seem foul, but feel fair. I think Paule, on the other hand, seems fair while feeling foul - to paraphrase Frodo.

    @RichardAbbott Any thoughts on the matter of Cain?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    @RichardAbbott Any thoughts on the matter of Cain?

    This is an interesting one, I think after doing some research. I think there are two bits:

    1) "The land of Cain" - I'm not convinced that this has any direct connection. Genesis 4 has Cain saying to God after his punishment has been pronounced "you have made me a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth" after which "Cain... settled in the land of Nod". Vagrant and wanderer come from the verb roots n-w-' and n-w-d, so there's a nice bit of word play going on, and "Nod" is again derived from n-w-d, and some translations make this explicit by calling it "the land of wandering". There's a nice irony between Qain "settling down" in the "land of wandering". Now Ferguson does a lot of moving around, but it is purposeful rather than aimless wandering, and he certainly doesn't end up setting in Labrador (I wondered at some stage if he would get bitten by the Labrador bug and go live there).

    2) Cain himself. Here I am much more convinced of the link. The basic story is that Cain was envious of his brother Abel and killed him, thus marking the beginning of the long history of sibling rivalry. The memorable phrase of the exchange between God and Cain, when the latter is asked where Abel is, is "am I my brother's keeper?". Now if you relax the brother-brother relationship to include other family members and work colleagues, then sibling relationships and whether each is responsible for each other seems to me to be a central theme of the book. Is a person responsible for his father, his grandfather, his radio operator contacts, his workmates? Grandfather Laroche actually did murder grandfather Ferguson, and 2 generations later we wonder if this Laroche is going to repeat history. This comes especially into focus when the two are on their way to Lion Lake, and in order to survive the journey have to wrap in the same blanket and share body heat... they have to be each other's keepers, but will one murder the other?

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    Interesting. The Innu of Labrador were traditionally nomadic, so I could see how Jacques Cartier arrived at the first reference.

    I would have liked if the Innu had played more of a role in the story. One Amazon reviewer I read complained about the racism in the book toward the natives and the French, which I didn’t notice at all. There was one use of the word ‘wop’ but I don’t recall anything else.
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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > I would have liked if the Innu had played more of a role in the story. One Amazon reviewer I read complained about the racism in the book toward the natives and the French, which I didn’t notice at all. There was one use of the word ‘wop’ but I don’t recall anything else.

    The Innu were basically plot devices to force Ferguson to travel with Laroche. As such you wouldn't expect them to have much depth. You could say the same of most of the railway crew, or Ferguson's boss, or Ferguson's mum for that matter. The only way the Innu would have had more depth is if they had guided Ferguson to the lake, and that would have been a very different story!

    As for 'wop', it's put into the mouth of a loud mouthed cook rather than a narrative passage. The speech as a whole shows humorous approval of the gent concerned and doesn't, to me at least, show racism on the part of Innes. It's a perennial problem in fiction today - how do you portray a prevalent attitude or habit of speech of its era without the author being considered racist or otherwise improper in contemporary terms?
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    I liked it though at times I found it a slog. The best bit, as others have said, was the sense of place about it- the Labrador landscape and that part of Canada in general. I also enjoyed the fact that the narrator kept going in deeper. It's definitely an adventure novel- the mystery is the driver though. I also liked the passion of the radio hams.

    There was a hint of Cain and Abel with a prospector murdering another (twice!) for maximum profit. I liked Laroche actually- he was conflicted, and this came across. The narrator misread it, as he did a few other things. The plot worked well enough.

    As racism has been brought up, I don't think the author was racist in intent. There are a few nice saving elements there- not places where nobody has gone before, but where no "white man" has gone before. I liked the Innu, and wish I could see more of them. After the reference to "mahogany skin" I couldn't help picturing Darcy as black, though I don't think this was the author's intent.

    The narrator has his prejudices here though, such as at one stage mentioning Paule arriving at a logical conclusion despite being half Indian. And I think Laroche's culture feeds into the narrator's early suspicions. It doesn't feel like this is the author's prejudice though. The plot needs the narrator to be ignorant of both the landscape and his own past.

    I also forgive Paule's actions- it feels like the narrator and Darcy might have done the same had it been their father murdered, as they all thought.

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