The Fable of All Our Lives
Fourth Estate, $32.99 pb, 577 pp
In or about that annus mirabilis 1968, Philip Roberts – academic, musician, poet and founder in 1970 of the poetry imprint Island Press – delivered a conference paper entitled ‘Physician Heal Thyself’, which considered eminent poets who had also been medical practitioners. (Roberts had gone from Canada to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar to study medicine, but in a Pauline moment switched to Arts.) He spoke of William Carlos Williams, Miroslav Holub, and Boris Pasternak, among others. The climax of his paper was his consideration of Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, which he claimed had as its raison d’être nothing more or less than to serve as a vehicle for Zhivago’s poetry, which appears, if memory serves correctly, as an appendix. The tail well and truly wagged the tale.
Roberts’s elegant paper came back to me as I read Peter Kocan’s new novel, The Fable of All Our Lives, which contains many poems by its protagonist, Tait, poems that have already been published, in Quadrant among other places, over the signature ‘Peter Kocan’. In Peter Kocan’s novel, Tait is writing a novel about the Jacobite uprisings, the title of which is ‘The Fable of All Our Lives’. The epigraph, from Tolkien, is identical to that which prefaces Kocan’s novel. Though Tait’s novel and Kocan’s novel are not identical, the latter contains the circumstances under which the former is researched and composed.