Just Read: 419 (Will Ferguson)

I just finished reading 419, Will Ferguson’s new novel. It’s about Nigerian e-mail scams and related topics, and I recommend it. Ferguson became one of my favourite writers because of his books on Canadian history and culture, but he’s also done a couple of travel books which I liked. I suppose there was some chance of his becoming the Canadian Bill Bryson, which wouldn’t be too bad of a thing to be, but he’s taken a left turn by switching to fiction. His first novel, Happiness^TM, won all kinds of awards although I really didn’t care for it. Second up was Spanish Fly, which I thought was tremendous, and now 419.

One interesting but frustrating thing about Ferguson’s books is how eager his publishers seem to be to retitle them:

Hokkaido Highway Blues was retitled Hitching Rides with Buddha
Generica was retitled Happiness^TM
Spanish Fly was retitled Hustle

Anyway, at the start of 419, this one character dies. Now, I don’t want to do the work for you here, but I believe that Ferguson was being very very careful and clever when he chose the name for this character. It’s a name that has appeared in fiction before, and in a context that contrasts very neatly with the themes of 419. I’m sure he did it on purpose. You go read 419–you’ll like it, it’s good–and then look up what other character had the same name as the dead guy, and think about that. It’s pretty neat. I like it when writers do stuff like that.

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