The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is an epic historical novel, by Wayne Johnston. It was published in 1998. I found it in the 27th Street Book Box, and recognized the name of the author, as I’ve previously read his excellent Baltimore’s Mansion.
I was afraid to begin this one. First of all it’s a big book – my copy has 562 pages. That’s a significant commitment. Secondly, it is an historical novel, whose narrative voice is that of a real historical figure, Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first Premier. The Smallwood character has a foil, an unrequited love, a fictional character named Fielding.
I confess I do not know enough about Joey Smallwood nor Newfoundland’s history to know where truth leaves off and fiction begins. This worried me, at least until the novel drew me in and convinced me that it didn’t matter.
I said this was a big book and this is true beyond the number of pages. It deals with a significant chunk of history, during which Newfoundland became part of Canada, and it deals with two characters whose lives are intertwined in a complex and somewhat mysterious way.
How can a novel written in the voice of a real politician be interesting? In fact I found it to be fascinating and engaging and complex and at times lovely. I confess were points at which I found this novel frustrating and other points at which I wished it had been edited back a hundred pages or so, (and yet I couldn’t say which parts I wanted edited back), but mostly I became deeply immersed in it.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is a tale of ambition, a history, a love story and a loving portrait of Newfoundland. Recommended.