Most Canadians know that the Prime Minister lives at 24 Sussex Drive while Parliament is in session. But most Canadians probably couldn’t tell you what the inside of the first house looks like or what actually goes on inside. Linda Svendsen can… sort of. Her new novel, Sussex Drive centers on a fictional 1st Lady of Canada – Becky Leggatt – and her political frenemy, the female Governor General – Lise Lavoie.
Now while Leggatt is definitely a nod to current 1st lady Laureen Harper – with a dash of some other conservative thrown women in, Lavoie is almost an exact replica of former GG Michaelle Jean. The exception being that Lavoie comes from the fictional African Nation of St. Bertrand, and not Haiti as Jean is. Oh yeah, Queen Elizabeth has now abdicated the thrown so her “senior-citizen son” can take power. Obviously, this is an alternate history that completely comes from the mind of Svendsen, but it is far more entertaining the real-life bore that has become Canadian Politics.
The story takes place in the fall of 2008, before the real-life PM prorogued parliament – twice. Besides the two aforementioned women, the cast of characters includes Greg Leggatt – the far right-leaning PM, husband to Becky and father to Martha, Peter and Pablo; Rene – Governor General consort, french-Canadian movie star, whose latest role is a supporting part in a film directed by the guy who did In Bruges; Corporal Taylor Shymaski – a one-legged RCMP officer stationed in Ottawa who has secrets about his time in Afghanistan and who ends up getting too close to Martha, the Leggatt’s virginal, Christian 18 year old daughter; Niko – Lise’s only child by her deceased first husband, who was a Cree radical, Niko may also be slightly insane and has an unrequited crush on Martha. You can get the picture now.
Sussex Drive is a bitingly-funny, page-turning satire with characters that you hate to love and love to hate. It is at times hysterical, outlandish and secretive, mimicking the traits of the politicians she so beautifully recreates. Did I mention that Barack and Michelle have cameo appearances (along with Gordon and Sarah Brown and the aforementioned King Charles).
Maybe it’s because I’m such politico but last year my favourite read was Terry Fallis’ Up & Down – in a way a political satire of it’s own. It’s only three days into 2013 so far, but Sussex Drive has a good chance of making it to the top of my favourite reads list.