Some Great Thing
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Written by the same author who brought us The Book of Negroes, the novel Some Great Thing tells the story of Winnipeg native, Mahatma Grafton, a young and passionate journalist. As a young black man with a very unique name, Mahatma faces assumptions about race and identity. He searches for the perfect stories, trying to make a name for himself in the journalistic world, while upholding the moral values instilled in him by his father. He struggles with the intrusive nature of journalism into the lives of those suffering loss or injury. Mahatma finds himself reporting on the heated conflicts that arise from issues surrounding French-language rights in Manitoba, or on the struggle with welfare faced by a poor man named Jack Corbett. As his stories are twisted by his editor, Mahatma learns that the world of journalism is not always a place of morality, but is often the site of fabrication for the sake of politics and economic gain.
Hill’s writing is captivating. I had no idea that I owned this novel until it surfaced from my book pile a few days ago. Having read The Book of Negroes–a book that had me spellbound–a few years ago, I was extremely interested in reading Hill’s new novel when I saw his name. I hadn’t intended to read this book so quickly, however yesterday, caught up in Hill’s sweet words, I read almost the entire thing.
Being relatively close to Mahatma’s age, and in a similar position of finishing my education and seeking a career, I related closely to the protagonist. Mahatma comes uncertainly into journalism and finds his footing, his talent, and his voice as a writer. He gains fame nationwide, and to an extent, internationally in Cameroon. ‘Hat’ makes a name for himself and learns how to make a living in an ethical and respectable way. His struggle to do what’s right versus what his editor wants him to do is a constant battle throughout the novel.
I would have liked to see a different title on Hill’s novel. Some Great Thing doesn’t seem captivating enough to hint at the wonderful story inside. It is vague and lacking in intrigue. Something bolder and more direct would strength the overall impression of Mahatma’s story. For all of the racial, language, and economic conflicts that occur within these pages, the title lacks any indication of these themes.
I would have also liked to see further development in Mahatma’s opposition, Edward Slade. Slade is the typical writer-gone-tabloid journalist who deteriorates from respectable reporter to gossip columnist who seeks out any news-worthy events without regard to correct research or sympathy for the interviewees. Slade is motivated by his jealousy of Mahatma’s success and his desire to defeat his opponent in journalistic competition. The reader sees Slade as the slimy reporter who does everything necessary to get a story, but who has no concern for those affected by the story. It would have given Slade more depth if more time had been spent on his thoughts and his perspective, rather than being views from a third-person perspective observing his actions from afar.
Other than these two very minor details, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Mahatma was a very interesting and well-rounded character. Other characters in his life have compelling stories: Helene Savoie who gave up speaking French as a young girl only to return to the language after being inspired by Mahatma, Chuck Maxwell who has limited education but has worked on the newspaper since he was a teenager, and Yoyo who is visiting Manitoba from Cameroon who becomes the unifying international connection between two vastly different cities. Each character in this story helps to build a unique and interesting setting for Mahatma’s story.
I would definitely recommend this read, especially if you enjoyed The Book of Negroes. Although dealing with vastly different topics, Hill’s narratives are easy to sink into and tell captivating tales of struggle and triumph.