REVIEW: Sussex Drive

Book by Linda Svendsen

REVIEW: Sussex DriveYou can’t fool us, Linda Svendsen! It’s pretty darn clear that the characters in your frisky new novel bear more than passing resemblance to real-life residents of a certain famous Ottawa street. Let’s start with Greg and Becky Leggatt, who live at No. 24 with their three children. Greg’s a conniving minority-government prime minister with anger issues who writes gospel rock operas in his spare time; Becky’s his spunky, manipulative, fed-up wife who uses emoticons in emails and plots away like Madame Defarge. Becky is BFFs (or wants to be) with Governor General Lise Lavoie, who lives at No. 1 with her actor husband René, a “Québécois superstar,” and son Niko from her first marriage to an environmental activist. Lise, an African-born former charity fundraiser, also has a lot on her plate—a son on antidepressants, a politically radical sister and a problematic PM.

The satiric alternative history, set in 2008 and 2009, is as thinly veiled as a double-entendre. A busy plot juggles a one-legged RCMP detail who has a plot-defining sexual dalliance with one of his charges, an African political coup, and sundry political and domestic dramas, including a pissed-off PM hurling a soapstone bear at his missus. There’s also a heck of a lot of proroguing, which unfortunately isn’t a euphemism. Only in Canada could a political roman à clef be animated by a non-confidence motion and bickering about the Constitution.

Svendsen coaxes well-researched material into a light, breezy read that hints at more formidable literary chops. There’s no Rosebud moment, but enough insider-ish details and Canuck branding touchstones—Roots, Joe Fresh, HBC—to give readers outside the Ottawa fishbowl a sense of being plugged in. The Hill’s practised gossips, on the other hand, will find Sussex Drive’s plot pallid next to actual rumour-mill churnings. But they’ll definitely give it a skim, if only to see if they rate a covert mention.