First published by Anansi in 1969, Five Legs was a breakthrough for Canadian experimental fiction, selling 1,000 copies in its first week. At the time Scott Symons wrote that "Five Legs has more potent writing in it, page for page, than any other young Canadian novel that I can think of." Or indeed any young American novel — including Pynchon and Farina.
Five Legs is the subversive tale of two guilt-ridden young men, Lucan Crackell and Felix Oswald — one a professor, the other his student — caught in the grip of the North American Protestant ethic, with its emotional web-spinning and sexual torments. Gibson captures both their mortifications and their spirited resistance to all things WASP, themselves included, in stream-of-consciousness prose that is at once fluid, disjointed, and hilarious. Essential reading for any Canlit junkie, and quite a trip. This edition features a new introduction by Sean Kane.
About the authors
Graeme Gibson is the acclaimed author of Five Legs, Communion, Perpetual Motion, and Gentleman Death. He is a long-time cultural activist, and co-founder of the Writer's Union of Canada and the Writers' Trust. He is a past president of PEN Canada and the recipient of both the Harbourfront Festival Prize and the Toronto Arts Award, and is a Member of the Order of Canada. He lives in Toronto.
George Johnston was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on October 7, 1913. Johnston knew early on that he wanted to be a writer, and published early poems (often comic-satiric), as well as newspaper columns, film reviews and plays, during his years at the University of Toronto's Victoria College, where he studied philosophy and English.
When war was declared, he joined the RCAF and served four and a half years, including thirteen months as a reconnaissance pilot in West Africa. He returned to Canada in 1944, married Jeanne McRae, and completed his MA at the University of Toronto. In between, he taught two years (1947-49) at Mount Allison University, and in 1950, having found teaching to his liking, accepted a post at Ottawa's Carleton University where, for twenty-nine years, he was a charismatic and much-loved professor of Old and Middle English and Old Norse. His first book of poems, The Cruising Auk, written during the war, was not published until 1959, when he was forty-six.
Sabbatical years were decisive in Johnston's life. During his first, 1956-57 at Dorking in Surrey, he met Peter Foote of the University of London, who taught him Old Norse, and began translating The Saga of Gisli in collaboration with him. A second sabbatical, in 1967-68, was spent in Denmark and included the discovery of modern Faroese poetry and the first of four visits the Johnstons made to the Faroe Islands. A last sabbatical, 1974-75, spent mostly in Gloucester, England, included a three-week visit to Iceland.
After The Cruising Auk, Johnston published four more poetry collections before the appearance of Endeared by Dark, his Collected Poems, in 1990. A man whose diverse interests included calligraphy, bell-ringing, wine-making and beekeeping, who kept up a wide correspondence and enjoyed reading the classics aloud with his wife, Johnston retired from Carleton in 1979. He died in August of 2004.
Other titles by Graeme Gibson
Gentleman Death / Perpetual Motion
Penguin Modern Classics Edition
Eleven Canadian Novelists Interviewed by Graeme Gibson
Graeme Gibson Interviews Alice Munro
From Eleven Canadian Novelists Interviewed by Graeme Gibson
The Bedside Book of Beasts
A Wildlife Miscellany
The Bedside Book of Birds
An Avian Miscellany