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The Englishman's Boy

(Frontier trilogy)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  4,186 ratings  ·  158 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 intellig
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Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 15th 1998 by Picador (first published September 14th 1996)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,186 ratings  ·  158 reviews


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Burd
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Maureen
Aug 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
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
Jim
We Canadians are a mild lot...so 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
Geoff
Jul 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Marlene
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Graeme Stuart Waymark
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who like literature and history
Recommended to Graeme by: Daughter Jennifer
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
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rabbitprincess
May 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
...more
Maggie Donaldson
Feb 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
HomeInMyShoes
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Quite an entertaining and well put together story. The intertwined current versus past and the dual storylines of character development were really good. A highly recommended author from my home country.
Gail
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This novel comes up often during discussion in my classes: Guy has done so many things right.
Anita
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took until page 65 to be totally drawn in...the writing is wonderful.
David
An intriguing narrative about two powerful settings: the Wild West and the sometimes wilder early Hollywood. Much of the narrative focuses on the exposing and conveying of historical truth in contexts that prefer sanitized fictions. Yet it’s a novel 🙂
Eva Blum
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! Compelling and full of gritty but vulnerable characters.
Sarah
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-fiction
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
...more
Trina
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
With alternating chapters that overlap the Wild West frontier with early Hollywood glitz, this novel tries to tell the story of a mysterious old cowboy whose life has the makings of the next great American film--if only he can be found. You'd think this would have been terrific - and I wanted it to be since Guy Vanderhaeghe writes beautifully and creates vivid, sympathetic characters. But I couldn't get into this novel the way I did The Crossing, which also takes place in the Canadian and Americ ...more
Tracey
Jan 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian
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
Tony
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel for its compelling portrayal of life in the unsettled Canadian west at the turn of the century, for its sustained tension and dark secrets, and for the rendition of the main characters and how they view the world around them in connection with the past. Through experiences, memories, and dialogue we are given a very vivid picture of two distant historical periods. Bonus points for it being set in the Cypress Hills, where I currently live.
David
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
Very good book however the end was confusing. Otherwise an interesting story and development of 2 stories within the same book with common characters in each story. Very creative!
CynthiaA
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
I quite liked this book. Its awestern, but its more than that. Its philosophical and smart and eloquent. The story is revealed through two narratives, both are drawn together in a fantastic climax. Excellent story telling!
Buffy
Nov 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of can lit
One of the most depressing books I have ever read, bleak but lovely.
Pamela
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(view spoiler) ...more
AJ
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written, somewhat oddly-told story about the 'Old West' (1873) and changing times. Beautifully written because Vanderhaeghe curates historical detail carefully and with exquisite sensibility. The details feel real, lived in, yet quite certainly richer than they ever were. Oddly told, because it is essentially the narrative of a man, Harry Vincent, who in 1953 decides to tell the story of that Old West, and of the irrevocable changes that shape our lives, by revisiting his e ...more
Paul Weiss
First-rate Canadian story-telling

When it comes to anti-aboriginal prejudice, no honest, rational person can claim that Canada is without its problems or shameful events in its history. The Cypress Hills Massacre – the slaughter of more than 20 Assiniboine Indians in Saskatchewan by white wolf hunters who had crossed the loosely defined American border on the trail on some stolen horses – is just one of these shameful events, notable in that it generated a national scandal and the creation of the
...more
Maria Stevenson
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was very impressed with this novel. I recall hearing about it back in the 1990s, when it won The Governor General's Award. I recall a co-worker of mine, a fellow book nerd, updating me from time to time, with "I'm still trying to finish that damn 'Englishman's Boy'." I saw the cover and thought, "G.G. Award or not, it's a Western and co-worker finds it slow-going, so I will give it a miss."
Decades later and I'm scrounging the book section of a thrift store and I come across "The Englishman's B
...more
mica-micare
This book - ouf.

I thought this book was well written, but, honestly, it's one of those "whose story is this to tell?" things for me. I was intrigued by the bits in Hollywood, which is largely due to You Must Remember This podcast.

The juxtaposition of the fictional "true" Western film that our narrator is working on with Birth of a Nation (a film that is justly now considered to be a racist and revisionist history) was an excellent call - I think that we still have a bit of a cultural blind spo
...more
Mariele
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, 2-remarkable
The writing was extraordinary. The first chapter, told from the indigenous people’s POV was fascinating, and it totally sucked me into the story. I was hoping to get more of that, but it only served as frame, and it doesn’t resurface until the end of the book, with lesser effect. Nevertheless, the novel worked for me on several levels. Rachel Gold was a superb character. The layering of the plot was also great. I enjoyed Harry Vincent’s behind the scenes perception of 1920s Hollywood, with a shi ...more
Karen
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-5-star-fiction
I love Guy Vanderhaeghe! This was a great book, although not as good as "The Last Crossing" in my humble opinion. I devoured it anyway. He's actually a very lyrical writer and his descriptions of 1920s Hollywood and the "old west" were quite lush, transporting me to that time. I didn't like the way Shorty was maligned by having his story "stolen" as he seemed to be a good man, but in the end I felt that he was no saint and that good and evil resided in all characters to varying degrees. I found ...more
Hanna Municipal Library
This book club discussion had four attending with 23 reading along. The group had a difficult time with the duality of the story line. Many felt that the book was a bit of a challenge to get in to. The two story lines were done in such a way as to be distracting.

The historical aspect of the piece did draw some. One participant was so drawn by it they looked up more information on the massacre.

Overall, most participants would not recommend the book. It was an interesting novel to read, once you g
...more
Daniel Kukwa
I liked this novel...but to varying degrees. By far the strongest & most compelling section was 1920s Hollywood, which fired my imagination with an era that seems so close yet so far away. I've never been a fan of westerns, but the 19th century plains where the Englishman's Boy roamed had their moments...mitigated by some strangely dreamy writing that didn't really speak to me. I was disappointed with the conclusion, which seemed so abrupt and left Harry Vincent's story feeling like a dangli ...more
Anne
Sep 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Vanderhaeghe ties together the life of a Western rogue named Shorty McAdoo and the early days of Hollywood where studio heads behaved like megalomaniacs, a rather improbable pairing but one that does work. I found the writing at times a little dense. I had to plough through. The characters kept me going; the type one would imagine running into on the frontier and in the early days of Hollywood.
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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
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Other books in the series

Frontier trilogy (3 books)
  • The Last Crossing
  • A Good Man