A startingly funny and deeply satisfying satirical novel that makes the Canadian political scene accessible from the female perspective, behind the scenes at the top of the hill.
Torn from the headlines, Sussex Drive is a rollicking, cheeky, alternate history of big-ticket political items in Canada told from the perspectives of Becky Leggatt (the sublimely capable and manipulative wife of a hard-right Conservative prime minister) and just a wink away at Rideau Hall, Lise Lavoie (the wildly exotic and unlikely immigrant Governor General)—two wives and mothers living their private lives in public.
Set in recent history, when the biggest House on their turf is shuttered not once, not twice, but three times, Becky and Lise engage in a fight to the death in a battle that involves Canada’s relationship to the United States, Afghanistan and Africa. The rest of the time, the women are driving their kids.
From Linda Svendsen’s sharp and wicked imagination comes a distaff Ottawa like no other ever created by a Canadian writer, of women manoeuvring in a political world gone more than a little mad, hosting world leaders, dealing with the challenges of minority government, and worrying about teen pregnancies and their own marriages. As they juggle these competing interests, Becky and Lise are forced to question what they thought were their politics, and make difficult choices about their families and their futures—federal and otherwise.
Linda Svendsen's linked collection, Marine Life, was published in Canada, the United States and Germany and her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Saturday Night, O. Henry Prize Stories, Best Canadian Stories and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Marine Life was nominated for the LA Times First Book Award and released as a feature film. Svendsen’s TV writing credits include adaptations of The Diviners, At the End of the Day: The Sue Rodriguez Story, and she co-produced and co-wrote the miniseries Human Cargo, which garnered seven Gemini Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award. She received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006. Svendsen is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. She was born in the riding of Mount Pleasant and raised in Coquitlam-Moody.
A 49th Shelf Most Anticipated Book [Fall 2012]
“Svendsen…writes about behind-the-scenes political shenanigans with a sassy, knowing, media-savvy, cinema-swift assurance…. Like Primary Colors, Sussex Drive is unabashedly entertaining and uses the privilege of fiction to talk about the behind-the-scenes drama that shapes public life. This novel is especially to be welcomed because it’s the type of book Canadian writers rarely tackle, engaging public political issues as well as domestic life and borrowing heavily from the techniques of genre literature…. In using Ottawa gossip as a jumping off point for inquiring into the state of our national political soul, Svendsen has given us a novel that keeps us amused while also provoking sharper thoughts.”
“A barbed satire that nicely skewers Canadian political life. . . . It makes Canadian politics so entertaining, it belongs on the same shelf as Terry Fallis’s 2008 Leacock Award winner, The Best Laid Plans. . . . Svendsen delivers her lively yarn in a breezy, savvy style. . . . Canadian politics has never been as exciting—and as rollickingly funny—as it is in Sussex Drive.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“Yes, Prime Minister. Linda Svendsen serves up life on Parliament Hill, and its denizens, on skewers. Delicious!.... Linda Svendsen . . . has a finely tuned ear for gossip, a wicked sense of humour and a lucid sense of geopolitics. One would hardly think she’s writing about Ottawa. . . . Under Svendsen’s deft touch, Ottawa politics are dirty and dangerous, at home and abroad. . . . In a delicious moment for journalists—or all who write political dialogue in their heads—Svendsen gives us a succulent version of a Greg Leggatt/Bob Newhart call to the GG. . . . Politics are so complex. Thank goodness for Linda Svendsen to explain it. More please.”
“There is something in Svendsen’s prose that made me stop and wonder how she so accurately knows the threats to our democracy. . . . Maybe fiction can help wake us up.”
—MP Elizabeth May, rabble.ca
“Sussex Drive draws to the forefront the ways that those opposed to the government’s views can be silenced. The power, the spin, the backroom dealings that we like to think are part of other country’s political systems are certainly part of ours as well.”
—The Vancouver Sun book club
“Using her experience in writing short fiction and screenplays, Svendsen’s snappy dialogue and highly visual scenes zoom along at breakneck speed. She deftly captures an imaginary Ottawa where familiar personalities, history and issues meld with darkly dysfunctional political manoeuvrings. . . . The real strength of this novel is Svendsen’s characters. Love them and hate them—and you will—these people seem real as they march, stumble and ultimately careen toward a resolution. . . . You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. You’ll love this novel.”
—Guelph Mercury (also appears in The Record)
“You can’t fool us, Linda Svendsen! It’s pretty darn clear that the characters in your frisky new novel bear more than passing resemblance to real-life residents of a certain famous Ottawa street. . . . As thinly veiled as a double-entendre. . . . Only in Canada could a political roman à clef be animated by a non-confidence motion and bickering about the Constitution. Svendsen coaxes well-researched material into a light, breezy read that hints at more formidable literary chops.”
“Literary satire is something of an outlier in CanLit, which makes Linda Svendsen’s new novel Sussex Drive—a witty send-up of Stephen Harper’s ruthless rise to power—a welcome pleasure.”
“Canadian politics is made more satirical, more fun, and more thoughtful in a new novel, Sussex Drive. . . . Like any good satire, it takes recent political history and current Canadian political culture, makes up some names and creates fascinating characters that look somewhat familiar, but are completely the genius of the author. I’ve started it and it’s hard to put down. It’s incredibly insightful.”
“A funny, impolitic novel written in the tradition of Joe Klein’s Primary Colours and Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife. With its confined chronology and a relationship to reality more along the lines of the TV show Spitting Image, . . . it is certainly entertaining. . . . Sussex Drive is a silly novel, but also an important one, an effective satire which asks important questions about our political system, all the while it thoroughly entertains.”
—Pickle Me This (blog)
“A truly Canadian satire that tackles serious political issues with aplomb using equal amounts of humour and intrigue. [A] little gem of a book. . . . Despite the depressing seriousness of the overarching themes, I laughed out loud more times than I care to admit. To bring a reader from fits of laughter to the pits of despair and back in a repeated cycle takes a special talent, and I must concede that it was on full display here. I was also thoroughly impressed with the quality of writing showcased in this novel. There were so many times where I literally stopped reading to appreciate the way something was phrased—how it rolled off the tongue, or sat so poetically in my mind’s eye. The mess of contradictions that makes us human is also examined with the skill of a surgeon. Issues of immense controversy are handled with delicacy and surprising poignancy. . . . I couldn’t stop talking about this book with anybody that happened to be in earshot whilst reading it, and I’m sure there will be plenty more subjected to my evangelistic zeal in the next few weeks. If you were at all considering this book, do yourself a favour and take the leap.”
—The Indiscriminate Critic (blog)
“In Sussex Drive, Linda Svendsen takes us deep behind the lines of Ottawa’s politics, polls and pomp, and into the lives of Canada’s two most powerful women. By turns shocking, funny, sizzling and illuminating, this story is brilliantly written with an unnerving authenticity that makes it seem all too real. You’re going to want to read this.”
—Terry Fallis, author of Canada Reads winner The Best Laid Plans and Up and Down
“Sharp and funny. . . . An insider’s book with great gossip and surprising plot twists, it will keep Ottawa talking for months.”
—Stevie Cameron, author of On the Farm and On the Take
“In our times Sussex Drive seems far from Camelot and so near to the Sunday service in Red Deer. In her rollicking novel, Linda Svendsen invents misbehaving Mounties, separatists in Rideau Hall, an opposition leader named Monsieur Triste, an African-born governor general caught up in her country’s tragedy, a prime minister’s wife determined to run her own show, and a prime minister marked by his ‘lumpen sourness.’ These are the unforgettable characters who hilariously rewrite our recent history.”
—John English, author of Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 1919–1968 and Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 1968–2000
“Sparkling, witty and insightful! In this edgy and terrific satire we see Linda Svendsen’s eye for revealing detail, ability to create real characters, and crisp prose—everything that made those who read Marine Life want more. She targets politics in a way recognizable even to people who live not in Ottawa but Washington, D.C. Blending the political and personal, Sussex Drive shows us the brutality of political life and the essential humanity of those in it. Trollope might have written a book like this—if he’d collaborated with Jane Austen.”
—Robert A. Lehrman, novelist and former chief speechwriter to U.S. Vice President Al Gore
“Can Ottawa possibly be this out of control? It can be if it’s dominated by two fabulous women who happen to be the wife of the PM, and the Governor General herself. Sussex Drive, funny, chilling and addictive, gets my vote.”
—Judith Timson, author and journalist
“A witty, funny, sexy romp that flirts with international intrigue, love, lust and duty in an alternate Ottawa that seems eerily real. Svendsen’s novel is a delicious, subversive read.”
—Paulette Bourgeois, writer and screenwriter