The Englishman's Boy
By Guy Vanderhaeghe
Setting is an interesting concept; it not only sets the physical surroundings but also paints a metaphoric or symbolic picture of characters, introduces conflict and develops atmosphere. In The Englishman's Boy Vanderhaeghe uses all the above elements to bring his novel to a higher level.
The story opens with an effective use of setting to create a mood of suspense and anticipation, and introduces the protagonist, Harry Vincent. In the opening scene Harry is sitting at a typewriter trying to gather his thoughts: "It's true that once I was a writer of sort, but for thirty years I've written nothing longer than a grocery list, a letter." This builds suspense, suggesting that something life altering has occurred that caused Harry to give up writing. He has struggled with this internal conflict for some thirty years, and now he is sitting at his typewriter ready to battle his fears.
Vanderhaeghe shows a brilliant use of setting, as he uses the physical surroundings as a symbolic depiction of what is going on inside Harry's head:
" I Went to the window... from there I could see the South Saskatchewan River, the frozen jigsaw pieces bumping sluggishly downstream, the cold, black water steaming between them. A month ago, when the ice still held, a stranger to the city would have had no idea which way the river ran. But now the movement of the knotted ice, of the swirling debris, makes it plain."
The "jigsaw pieces" are mixed thoughts and pieces of Harry's life; they have not been able to be deciphered through the ice and black water that has been holding them for years. His thoughts are now being freed and he is beginning to put the pieces of his misconstrued life back together.