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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,759 Ratings  ·  244 Reviews
A mystery and a love story spanning five decades, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is an epic portrait of passion and ambition, set against the beautiful, brutal landscape of Newfoundland. In this widely acclaimed novel, Johnston has created two of the most memorable characters in recent fiction: Joey Smallwood, who claws his way up from poverty to become New Foundland's fi ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published May 2nd 2000 by Anchor (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 26, 2015 BrokenTune rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, canada
"We are a people in whose bodies old sea-seeking rivers roar with blood."

I had The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams on my Canada reading list. To be fair, the book was not high up on the list as my knowledge of and interest in Newfoundland was pretty non-existent. If I say my interest in Newfoundland was pretty low, imagine how eager I would have been to read a fictionalised biography of Joseph Smallwood, Newfoundland's first Premier and the politician to lead the Dominion of Newfoundland into the
The embarrassing admission is that I am American. Why do I say that? Well, there are two answers. The first is that because I am American, I don't think I've ever seen a copy of this book during all my years of working in bookstores. I found it recently and I've heard people talking about it recently, so I thought it was a new book. Guys, this book has been on the planet since the late 90s. It hit bookshelves before I was working in bookstores, and I can say I never saw at the library I worked i ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Mmars rated it liked it
Really 3.5.

For no reason my reading travels have taken me to many cold and desolate climates over the last year. It began in Iceland with Burial Rites. I visited Greenland in the unfinished This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland a follow-up to the The Voyage of the Narwhal in a which a fictional crew sets out in hopes of discovering what happened to John Franklin’s lost expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. I just finished this, a history of Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first p
Jan 07, 2011 Ann-Marie rated it it was ok
Seemed a bit derivative of Howard Norman (Sheilagh Fielding is a close sister to Margaret Handle in The Bird Artist, which was published a few years earlier). Although the writing is good—the author excels at description and character develpment—the story somehow doesn’t seem to justify the length (500-plus pages). That said, the interwoven pages from Fielding’s history of Newfoundland are an interesting device. Without them, there’d be less of a sense of place, which is essential for the story. ...more
Gail Amendt
Aug 07, 2011 Gail Amendt rated it it was amazing
The best work of historical fiction I have read in a long time. Based on history - that of Newfoundland's entry into Confederation and the architect of that event - Newfoundland's first premier, Joey Smallwood, this is still very much a work of fiction. I'm not sure how much of the Smallwood we read about is real, but he is certainly an engaging, complex and well developed character. His longtime friend/love/nemesis, Sheilagh Fielding is one of my favorite female characters of all time and I'm s ...more
John Hanson
I'm reviewing this novel with much trepidation and caution. My copy is signed by Mr. Johnston who I met at a reading this past November for his latest novel. He's a nice man and a great reader. He could be a stand-up comic, very dry, very patient with his story telling, and has a very good understanding of story at that. My caution comes from my own writing about Newfoundland, and I have to be very cautious for I am a Mainlander, not a native son.

I have a sense of what Newfoundland is about. I'
Apr 03, 2013 Brian added it
I am typically a harsh critic of historical fiction (a crude subject heading that allows for the inclusion of fictionalized history) so it was both surprising and enchanting to discover in Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams a beautiful story tucked into a bed of "real" events and people. For those easily side-tracked by history, for those that read primarily to "better themselves," beware the temptation to think this is the story of Joey Smallwood just because he is the first-perso ...more
I loved this book. It was enthralling and informative, well written and funny. I know very little about the history of Newfoundland, it's the other end of the country and to be honest, from a cultural point of view, BC has more in common with Washington, Oregon and California than with the rest of Canada and I seldom think about what goes on out East.

While I realize much of this book is fictional, including one of the main characters, it fills in some very basic "how life was" in Newfoundland b
Charles Henri
Aug 17, 2012 Charles Henri rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
This book was highly recommended to me so I started with high expectations. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never really get into it. I should have abandoned it after a while but I kept reading through it, which took me a while to end it.

It's not that it is a bad book or anything. It is well written with great vocabulary. But it's the whole tone to it... I felt like the author wanted to write about Newfoundland itself and the book was just a pretence to get to do that. Half formal histo
Badly Drawn Girl
Apr 22, 2011 Badly Drawn Girl rated it really liked it

The history of Newfoundland is not a subject I would ever think I would enjoy learning about. This brilliantly written book manages to sum up the history of that island in a truly fascinating way. I never felt like this book was dragging, even though it is very large and stuffed to the brim with information, facts, and observations. By following the life of the future first premier of the country, Wayne Johnston reels his readers in. Joe Smallwood is like the little engine that could, he just ke
Jan 13, 2016 Booknblues rated it really liked it
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
by Wayne Johnston
4 star
pp. 562 (it's long, you know)

Where to start in my review of this hefty, seemingly endless book? It nearly did mean in, with its slow pace and lengthy passages despite the great beauty of many of them:

"There was beauty everywhere, but it was the bleak beauty of sparsity, scarcity and stuntedness, with nothing left but what a thousand years ago had been the forest floor, a landscape clear-cut by nature that never would recover on its own. It wa
May 25, 2015 Krista rated it it was amazing
Shelves: can-con, 2014, maritimes
While reading The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, and especially upon finishing it, I needed to know just how historically accurate the narrative was -- the Joey Smallwood of the book fit more or less with the bits I know about the actual first Premier of Newfoundland, but if the acid-penned, hilariously ironic Sheilagh Fielding did exist, I wanted to learn more about her. A google search led to this essay by the author, Wayne Johnston, and the following revelation:

The Colony of Unrequited Dream
Feb 22, 2013 Shannon rated it really liked it
This title fit the book very well.

I enjoyed the characters very much and felt that Fielding was essential to the story. I loved the layers of irony and the demonstrations of things simply stated. Eg. Smallwood said he was not a good father or husband and then throughout the book you realize how little the wife and children play a part its incredibly demonstrative of how poor he is at those roles.

One of the highlights of the novel is a series of brief interpolated chapters under the rubric of "Fi
Aug 09, 2015 Kristen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is at its heart a book about Newfoundland. Johnston creates a fictionalized version of Joey Smallwood, a real Canadian labor organizer and politician, to tell this story of the province during the 20th century. Like Robertson Davies (my gateway into Canadian literature), Johnston finds a really nice balance between wit and depth that I like a lot. Thanks to Keith for the recommendation!
I laughed, I gasped, I almost cried. Some books are like that. There are those that would have cheered for the storm to finish him off, but what a story we would have lost. Very much five stars.
It would be wrong for me to rate this novel. It is wonderfully written and the story is deeply engaging. I am sure that if I could finish it, it would be a 4 star read. But as a historical novel, it leaves me always asking the question "is this true?" or "Did that really happen?" and I just can't get past it. I am sure that what looks like fact most probably is, but the fictional character of Fielding is such a presence that I am able to appreciate neither the facts nor the fiction. I've read 32 ...more
Jennifer D
i finished this novel a few days ago but, so far, i haven't been able to consolidate my thoughts vey well. so this 'review' may be a bit of a mess - sorry!

johnston is a great writer - his prose is lovely, funny and smart, and his eye seems to come at things from a slightly off-centre slant. i loved (LOVED!) the character of fielding. so much so, at moments i kept wishing this novel was all about her. johnston did a great job weaving the history into his story. i very much appreciated the feel fo
Sep 29, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-books
This is a fictionalized biography of famed Newfoundland politician Joey Smallwood's early days from childhood up to his early days as Premier of Newfoundland after his campaign to bring it into Canada in 1949. There are two main characters, Smallwood and Shelagh Fielding, a girl he met in the schoolyard and with whom he had a running on again off again friendship. Although they never had a romantic relationship, he did love her after a fashion and she probably loved him. It's portrayed as a long ...more
Carol Waters
Nov 16, 2012 Carol Waters rated it really liked it
I've never been to Newfoundland, couldn't find it on a map. I'm half-way through this huge book and have no desire whatsoever to go there. I have no clue how this tome ended up in my bookcase. It must weigh six pounds. It took up a lot of space so I decided to read it to clear the shelf.

Fabulous, fabulous. I want to be Fielding. I want to buy boots for Joe. I want to vote two or three times in some local election. The bitterness of their lives is buried under hope, love, loyalty, confusion, dedi
Mar 09, 2013 Dianne rated it it was amazing
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Wayne Johnston is a wonderful writer. I read "The Navigator Of New York" a few years ago and found the same excellent reading this time. These books aren't the sort you just have to keep reading to see what happens next. I had no problem setting this one aside to read our Book Club selection then picking it up where I had left off. That doesn't sound like much of a recommendation but a sizzling plot isn't everything. These books have good stories
Paula Dembeck
Jul 22, 2013 Paula Dembeck rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two main plot lines in this grand historical fiction: one is the wacky lifelong relationship between two friends - Joey Smallwood and Sheilagh Fielding; the second is the story of Newfoundland's slow and awkward march towards Confederation with Canada after years of mistreatment by the British.

Newfoundland is a cold, barren and challenging land with few resources, populated by a warm and friendly people who despite the odds did their best over the years to eek out a living from its po
See message 48 of the Netherlands & Flanders group Autumn Challenge 2014 for a review in Dutch.

As I knew next to nothing about Newfoundland's history, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was a very interesting book to read. In it, Wayne Johnston manages to weave facts (the life of Joe Smallwood) and fiction (the life of Sheilagh Fielding) together in a very convincing manner. In many ways a true eye-opener when it comes to Newfoundland. My present 'Canada experience' is limited to Alberta and Br
Tina Siegel
Oct 19, 2013 Tina Siegel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This should have been a fabulous book. And parts of it were - mostly the language. I think Wayne Johnston did a wonderful job of evoking the tone and timbre of the time he's writing about. He also has a remarkable job of creating his two main characters - both Smallwood and Fielding are quirky and smart and a little irritating, with very distinct voices.

Actually, I did love Fielding. She's feisty. Unfortunately, the story focuses on Smallwood, who (as thoroughly imagined as he is) feels pedanti
Carolyn Stevens Shank
May 13, 2014 Carolyn Stevens Shank rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is a tragi-comic epic set in beautiful, but unforgiving, landscape of Newfoundland. It is the story of two bright, ambitious, childhood rivals, Joel Smallwood and Sheilalgh Feilding, who through their careers, maintain a competitive relationship and an unspoken, unconventional, romance, recognized too late. Smallwood claws his way from poverty to become Newfoundland's first premier; Feilding becomes a noted political satirist, with Smallwood as her subject. Throu ...more
Apr 08, 2015 Marc rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marc by: Lisa Gilbert
Shelves: fiction
After the first chapter, I thought I might actually bail out on this book. The tone is overwhelming and melancholic. I wasn't sure I could take this for all 1.5 inches (>500 p.) of the book. But I did stick it through despite it's shortcomings.

The story is very slowly developed, episodes interspersed with "asides" (I don't know what else to call them) from a supposed historical work and later with the character, Fielding's diary notes. Some of the episodes definitely take unexpected turns and
Sarah B.
Jul 14, 2014 Sarah B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-library
This was the most fun I can ever remember having with Canadian history. I was fascinated by the characters' personal lives, and very interested in the development of Newfoundland as a country before it entered Confederation. I wish it could have been written from the point of view of Sheilagh Fielding, who I found much more interesting than Joey Smallwood. Smallwood's naked ambition was almost his only character trait. But I guess Johnston might not have been able to include as much detail in hi ...more
May 17, 2009 Shawn rated it really liked it
I loved Wayne Johnston's "The Navigator of New York", but when I read that this book was about Joey Smallwood the first Premier of Newfoundland, I thought I'd pass. Sounded very dry. Years have passed and he wrote a sequel, "The Custodian of Paradise". Curiousity made me read "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams". Glad I did. It was great, an enjoyable read. It is written in the voice of Joey Smallwood himself. It involves a childhood mystery, a hidden truth, misunderstandings--politics only a backd ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Toto rated it it was ok
The book starts with a bang but ends not even with a whimper.

The early years of Joey Smallwood are well imagined; he is a real person. Once he gets married and devotes his life to socialist utopia for Newfoundland, the story falls apart. He becomes a stiff historical figure and his story loses its dramatic tension as it is engulfed in regional and federal politics. His imaginary love affair with the odd Ms Fielding is thoroughly unconvincing.

Historical fiction is one of the hardest genres to wr
Sorry, I had to put this book down. I just couldn't get into it and wasn't enjoying it. The characters were not likable or interesting (except for the rantings of the drunken father who disappeared very soon to my disappointment). The seal killings sickened me and I had to skip over that part, so I missed most of the even more important loss of the men on the expedition. I did keep trying for about 120 more pages, but the politics of the times were uninteresting. I gave it up.
Oct 04, 2012 Linda rated it it was ok
I enjoyed about the first half of the book, interesting settings and characters etc; I don't know too much Canadian history, especially Newfoundland, and this was a painless way to absorb quite a lot of information. But then for me, the book turned into a bit of a slog, and I stopped caring about the characters, the events, and then I found myself skimming to get to the end. I think, however, that most people really enjoyed this book from start to finish.
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“I exhausted myself trying to take it all in, noting every little variation and departure from how things were supposed to be. My notion of home and everything in it as ideal, archetypal, was being overthrown. It was as though the definitions of all the words in my vocabulary were expanding at once.

Cape Breton was much like Newfoundland, yet everything seemed slightly off. Light, colours, surface textures, dimensions – objects like telegraph poles, fence posts, mail boxes, which you would think would be the same everywhere, were bigger or smaller or wider by a hair than they were back home. That I was able to detect such subtle differences made me realize how circumscribed my life had been, how little of the world I had seen.”
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