David Carpenter Interview - Prairie Books NOW
Reviewed by: Quentin Mills-Fenn
Gilt Complex: One bright nugget among Yukon gold
The Yukon Gold Rush is famous, but there's treasure to be found throughout Canada. David Carpenter's new novel, The Gold, tells of a different gold rush. Its protagonist, born Joe Burbidge in the North of England, wants adventure, and gold fever draws him to the Northwest Territories.
Carpenter sets his novel in and near Yellowknife to pay homage to his father's friend, a prospector named Tom Payne.
"He was an Englishman who immigrated to Western Canada to make his mark," says Carpenter. "He was a good storyteller, and my brother and I were so taken with him and his stories that we in turn made up stories about him, especially about how he found all that gold that made him famous. His time was the 1930s and his place was the goldfields of Yellowknife. I couldn't help but install him in my novel as a minor character."
Carpenter went to Yellowknife to do some research, and wrote parts of The Gold in a cabin at Little Bear Lake in northern Saskatchewan, where he could soak up the atmosphere amid the wolves, bear, lynx, deer, elk, and moose.
"The winters come early and the summers come late," he says. "Some of the trees up there are stunted and they grow very slowly. The northern lights are sometimes pretty spectacular. There's a lot of hunting and fishing up there as well. In other words, the accessible mid-north and the Far North have some similarities, including days of perfect silence when you can hear the conversations of countless birds.
"Sometimes on the trails, eskers, and lakes, I took Joe with me for company. At times we seemed to chop wood, light fires, and check out the rocks together."
The novel follows Joe Burbidge through all his lives, as he changes identities and names. He winds up a successful man living in a grand Edmonton house with a sophisticated wife.
"I not only wanted to bring Joe Burbidge to life in all his contradictions and complexities," Carpenter says. "I wanted to explore his status as an adventurer and hero."
And as an ex-hero. "A retired hero aware of growing uncertainties. What happens to the hero when he retires? What happens to him when he can no longer call on his body to endure and prevail? What happens to him when he comes to realize that so many of his conquests and escapes, and the treasures he has won, have come at a price? What happens to Joe when he comes to see gold fever as a form of frenzied appetite that sets moral dilemmas in motion?"
The answers may have something to do with a young boy, Rennie.
"Perhaps he sees a possibility of redemption in their friendship," says Carpenter. "Becoming a rich man, for Joe, is scarcely worth the trouble. But perhaps if he could use some of that money to help the boy on his way, he could feel as though his life had a purpose."
You can imagine David Carpenter and his creation both smiling.
"But if I told this to Joe, he might just scoff at my theories."