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The Englishman's Boy (Frontier trilogy)

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  2,778 ratings  ·  108 reviews
Winner of the Governor General's Award

Counterpointing the stories of the legendary Western cowboy Shorty McAdoo and Harry Vincent, the ambitious young screenwriter commissioned to retell his story in 1920s Hollywood, this novel reconstructs an epic journey through Montana into the Canadian plains, by a group of men pursuing their stolen horses.

The Englishman's Boy intelli
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 15th 1998 by Picador (first published September 14th 1996)
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Best Canadian Literature
68th out of 769 books — 692 voters
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Literary Westerns
32nd out of 121 books — 188 voters

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Community Reviews

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the englishman's boy is part western, and part early hollywood tale, exploring how we interpret civilization and savagery in our personal thoughts and action, and how that is reflected in the rest of society. it does so by recounting two stories: one of the titular character, drifting through the west, earning his guns, and his horse, becoming a man and a cowboy; and it is also the story of a writer who is looking to record the story of that cowboy, in early hollywood, to fulfill somebody else's ...more
We Canadians are a mild much so that even our Indian massacres are mild affairs with low body counts and a minimum of fuss. This book is centred around the Cypress Hills massacre, a pretty tame affair when compared to the massive episodes of bloodletting that occurred with some regularity south of the border. In the USA it would probably be listed as a skirmish, but I'll bet none of that was any consolation to the unfortunate Assiniboine who were being set upon by (mostly) American hunt ...more
A clever, harsh, and poignant treatment of American frontier myth. The author was clearly no stranger to the name Frederick Jackson Turner. The setting is great, and the contrast between Hollywood and the west all the more interesting. There is no doubt here who the savages are, and where the barbarism is, and if that's not made clear enough, the undertones of rising fascism and growing paranoia make it clear. A colorful, wonderful and broad book.
Daniel Cann
This is a real gem. For those who enjoy history, particularly US late nineteenth century and the golden age of silent movies in the 1920s, then this is a must read.

Vanderhaeghe cleverly weaves a tale involving two strands: one part of the story sees writer Harry Vincent looking back on a time in his life when he worked for (fictitious) movie mogul Damon Ira Chance in the 1920s; the other part concerns the story of two Assiniboine Indians rustling twenty horses from a group of sleeping white men,
Wow, what a horrific part of our Canadian history! Although this book was fiction, I appreciated Vanderhaeghe's efforts to raise awareness of the Cyphress Hills Massacre in 1873 (which I did not know beforehand). The twinning of the 2 stories (the massacre in 1873 and the Hollywood silent movie studio 50 years later) was brilliant and effective. Added to this, I applaud the CBC mini-series also written by Vanderhaeghe. It was great seeing the author in his cameo as the bartender. Both the book a ...more
Maggie Donaldson
Wow, this was such a great book. Vanderhaeghe is a master of descriptive narrative - you can almost smell and feel the atmosphere, especially in the 'historical' parts of the book concerning the wolfers and the build towards the shocking events at Cypress Hills. at the same time, the parallel story of 1920s Hollywood is believable and atmospheric. I want to read much more by this author - apparently, he teaches creative writing at nightschool in Saskatchewan. Lucky pupils - a master writer. Just ...more
This novel comes up often during discussion in my classes: Guy has done so many things right.
Many times you start reading a book and as you get into it, as you get to connect with the dialogue and the characters, becoming more and more interested in the outcome of the story, you end up liking the book. Other times you pick up a book expecting something based on a review or an interesting premise but at some point it starts to drag or become repeditive or predictable and you are disappointed. Occasionally you pick up a book and from the very first page you can tell this book is so far a ...more
Graeme Stuart Waymark
Jan 29, 2013 Graeme Stuart Waymark rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who like literature and history
Recommended to Graeme by: Daughter Jennifer
Shelves: vanderhaeghe
Excellent Canadian historical novel, thoroughly researched with the added flavor of the early momentum of Hollywood as Cinema moved from status of 'has beens', 'wanna-be', second rate to stage, and for the non-erudite, illiterate, English as Second language (Immigrant) to a powerful voice in America and the profession of not only the rich and famous but the influential.

Most compelling about the reading is the examination through recorded history of the aboriginal/indians, the various tribes, an
May 26, 2008 rabbitprincess rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Westerns, Canadian history, and just good stories
Recommended to rabbitprincess by: CBC, indirectly
I have the CBC to thank for turning me on to this wonderful book. Earlier this year, they aired a jaw-droppingly brilliant adaptation of it as a two-part miniseries. Guy Vanderhaeghe himself adapted it, so I came to the book confident that the story had held up well.

Indeed it had. The story is told in mostly alternating chapters, shifting between the late 1880s (or thereabouts) and the early 1930s (pre-Second World War, at any rate). The past storyline is about a young man, known only as "the En
If Westerns are your thing, this is a phenomenally written Western and while I only give it 3 stars, it's because Westerns are not my thing. I find the intricate detail of life in the wide open space to be rather tiring and I read this for a book club so in my mind I was duty-bound to finish it. The book fluctuates between 1920s Hollywood and the real old West of about 30-40 years prior. While I was slightly more interested in the Hollywood era, I really never warmed to the characters. As I ment ...more
Yes it is amazing. Beautiful and painfully told. And so it ends:
"Then the blue horse stopped. And Fine Man did too."

Shorty's story (the Englishman's boy) is an epic, a caring story, one that is rarely told, and, in fact, imagined by Vanderhaege, but well done. Vanderhaege writes it like a story written at the time, in the 20s, 30s, 50s, with that staccato reporting, obvious narrator style. But he does the denouement well. Here are some good bits:
The Englishman's boy, reacting to Hardwick's decis
Czarny Pies
Nov 02, 2014 Czarny Pies rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who like historical novels more than history.
This is a great book for anyone who simply does not enjoy reading history but wants a great story about one of the many shocking massacres of Indian settlements during the glorious era when the West was won. The Englishman's boy tells the story of how a young teenager gets recruited into the posse of American and Canadian whisky traders that massacred 24 Indian women and children in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan in 1873.

As history this book is very good. As a novel, it stretches things too
It took until page 65 to be totally drawn in...the writing is wonderful.
Nov 15, 2007 Buffy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: fans of can lit
One of the most depressing books I have ever read, bleak but lovely.
I really like this book. It has a very interesting storyline. In fact, Englishman's Boy includes three storylines that are all intertwined. Firstly, there are two Assiniboine Indians stealing some horses from white men in 1873.

Secondly, there is the young Englishmans Boy whose real name is never given and who joins the white men whose horses were stolen in their chase of the Indians all the way up to Canada. (+ includes a retelling of the Cypress Hills massacre in 1873)

Thirdly, there is an old W
I didn't expect to like this book. I had read a review of Vanderhaeghe's newest in this Western trilogy and decided I might give it a try. But I believe I should go back and read the first book first, no matter how good the current one seems.

So I got it from the library. First of all I don't like the title. After reading it, I understand it, but I still don't like it. That was the first put-off. The second was that the "real" story started in 1920s Los Angeles with the movie industry. A western
Started off thinking this was the most brilliant thing I'd read in ages but actually it isn't - still pretty good though. Split between a posse of the 1870s and the glittering Hollywood set of the 1920s - the former much better than the latter, where in particular the voices are inauthentic (I don't think 'shut the fuck up' was quite the thing even among film people, in 1923). There are curious listings (in dialogue) of Hollywood scandals and starlets, which is very artificial, and a bit of the ...more
Biju Bhaskar
This book spans events separated by 50 years. The first tale is about a young boy called the Englishman's Boy because he enters the tale as the personal servant of an Englishman who visits America in the mid of the 19th century to hunt buffaloes. Though the Englishman succumbs to illness early in the tale, the protagonist is still called the 'Englishman's Boy'. He falls in with a group of wolf hunters who are in search of the Assiniboine Indians who stole their horses. The group is lead by a qui ...more
Jeff Rowe
It started off strong. But then the Englishman dies right at the beginning. He was shaping up to be an excellent character. The whole Hollywood angle is what ruined it for me with the alternating chapters. I never really cared much for Harry, the writer character. He gets converted from a jaded Hollywood hack to an idealist after a few minutes with the spoiled rich studio owner? Come on, dude. Or even for the cowboy for that matter. I mean what was he even doing in Hollywood in the first place i ...more
Mike Ormsby
One of the best novels I've read. Picked it up by chance in a second-hand book store in Edmonton, and was intrigued within a few pages, by character and plot. A two-track narrative blends times old and new, capturing deftly the end of one era of cowboys, and the dawn of the Hollywood stereotype. Unusual tone, restrained style, and some nice turns of phrase. A great writer you've probably never heard of? I hadn't. Canada can be proud of her son.
For book club. Review to follow when I do for the newsletter.

This novel weaves two stories together. The first is of Shorty McAdoo, a cowboy from the 1870's in southern Canadian prairies, who witnessed the Cypress Hills Massacre of 23 Nakota. The second is of Harry Vincent, an aspiring writer in early 1920's in Hollywood, who is tasked with finding Shorty and writing down his story. The main characters weren't that likeable, but there were a number of very interesting minor characters.
It's a dif
With no pride at all, I’ll confess that year after year I failed to instil in my patient grade eights some appreciation that the Northwest Mounted Police came into being largely as a result of a massacre in the Cypress Hills region of what was to become Saskatchewan. It should have been interesting, I thought—well, more interesting than the Father’s of Confederation or the importance of red fife wheat to prairie farmers. Well, no wonder. I knew nothing of Shorty McAdoo or Fine Man or Rachel Gold ...more
Aug 16, 2010 Teghan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Canadian/American history and cowboys
Recommended to Teghan by: forced to read it for class lol
I had to read this book for a class, otherwise I would not have picked it up.

Thats the thing sometimes, when you are forced to read something out of your comfort zone, you end up enjoying it far more than you thought.

I was one of the loudest proponents against this book in my senior lecture, but I had to eat my words by the end of it (to my professors satisfaction) as I became one of the strongest defenders of the book.

This book is beautifully written and narrates a history of Canada and the
Thomas Hayes
If I liked neat and tidy endings then I would have loved this book. It's a great piece of historical fiction. I can live with the almost cartoonish characters. Those last three chapters that wrap everything up with a neat bow in glowing Kodachrome are what ruined the book for me. If those endings are for you then I highly recommend this book. If not, read most of it until it feels like it is wrapping up, then put it down.
Jer McS
Terrific, enthralling The three time periods (the story is narrated from a 1950 POV, and looks back at Golden Age Hollywood and the Cypress Hills Massacre of the 1870s) are rendered impressively, and the sense of defeat felt by the narration is strangely seductive.
Although this book was well written, it was a depressing downer of a read. Left me with a feeling that humans are horrible creatures. I disliked the ending more than all the other parts I did not like.
Fraser Hoban
I read this one after looking into how extensive technological spying has become, so it had wonderful sense of personal freedom throughout it.
In the spirit of Blood Meridian, The Englishman's Boy satisfies any lingering bloodlust. I am rarely impressed by parallel plot lines because generally I favour one plot over the other. Here, the two (or three, read the book and we can talk about it) plots matter to each other. It's got a bit of a whodunit feel, leaving the reader to figure things out for themselves. That was refreshing, because I despise books and authors who think it's their duty to give me a lesson on symbolism or metaphor. H ...more
Charlie Vincent is a neophyte screenwriter in the 1920s for a film-maker who seeks to be the next D. W. Griffiths. He tracks down a frontier survivor named Shorty McAdoo and convinces him to share his story. The resulting film is not the story Shorty tells--a story that parallels Vicent's story in alternating chapters. The real story captures the brutality of the plundering of the West. The movie makes it a heroic undertaking. When Shorty (and Vincent) are disillusioned, tragedy results. Vanderh ...more
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Guy Clarence Vanderhaeghe, OC, SOM is a Canadian fiction author.

Vanderhaeghe received his Bachelor of Arts degree with great distinction in 1971, High Honours in History in 1972 and Master of Arts in History in 1975, all from the University of Saskatchewan. In 1978 he received his Bachelor of Education with great distinction from the University of Regina. In 1973 he was Research Officer, Institute
More about Guy Vanderhaeghe...

Other Books in the Series

Frontier trilogy (3 books)
  • The Last Crossing
  • A Good Man
The Last Crossing A Good Man Man Descending: Selected Stories Homesick My Present Age

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