304 pages, 8 × 5.22 × 0.8 in
December 28, 2004
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0676976034
ISBN - 13: 9780676976038
Read from the Book
There’s an image I often have of myself, my ur-self before I began to elaborate and embellish it, an image I retain from the last seconds of sleep or recover in a reliable daydream. I’m sitting in a corner of a remote upper room, casting brief glances about me and then tilting my face downwards as though to meditate on what I’ve just seen. In fact I have seen nothing because no one else is in the room and there is no furniture. It may be, it can hardly be anywhere else, the unused attic room of my childhood home in Amsterdam, that tall narrow Leidsegracht house -- the attic room where I would go in late March when the weather turned a little warmer, to check on the dead flies at the window ledges. They meant, that random spatter, another winter gone, and in my rudimentary way I was taking note of this sort of thing even then.If this is interesting at all it’s because the passage of time is by far the deepest thing I know about life, and, in an inverse way, about art. Also because everything’s connecting. I am a doctor who is abandoning medicine for literature, fitfully convinced that I have access to enough interesting words to justify this abandonment. (Doctors do this, I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Maybe they do it because time keeps on defeating life: no matter how diligent or technically cunning they are -- the impossibly delicate filaments, tiny cameras travelling bloodstreams -- their defence of life is brief, is never enough. So they’re tempted towards something with
From the Publisher
Doctor Bloom’s Story, a wry and subtle novel, is a Knopf Canada New Face of Fiction selection for 2004 and already a popular and critical favourite. What starts off sounding like a charming, bittersweet memoir develops rapidly into a complex and moving book centred on a pressing moral dilemma.
In the first few pages, Dr. Nicolaas Bloom, cardiologist and would-be writer, describes his life’s trajectory: from medical and literary studies in Leiden, Holland, through practice and research in Cambridge to, following the death of his wife, a new life in uptown Toronto. Dr. Bloom’s story proper begins in a writing workshop, taught by his tough-talking neighbour Larry Logan: Bloom finds himself entranced by one of his young classmates, a quiet, self-possessed young woman named Sophie Führ.
The novel quickly establishes the rhythm it will pursue throughout, its present-day action in counterpoint with Bloom’s memories and reflections. Bloom works in a downtown medical clinic; he remembers his late wife and stillborn daughter; he considers his literary masters, most of all Chekhov; importantly, he meets Larry Logan’s estranged wife Marianne. Then, out for a run in a local ravine, he sees a woman being beaten up; he has reason to believe it is his classmate, Sophie.
As Bloom and Marianne Logan fall for one another, and Bloom tentatively pursues his long postponed writing, Sophie’s situation becomes more and more of a concern; soon it has drawn in Larry, Marianne and others, none of whom are able to step in and help her. This is in part because, complicating matters, Sophie does not appear to want to be “rescued.” As she puts it, speaking of herself in a coded, charged conversation in the writing workshop:
“She has a belief. She believes that there are circumstances which, although they may not appear happy, are part of a the deeper life…. it would be a mistake, she thinks, to leave these circumstances.”
Sophie’s husband, Walter Rollo Maggione, comes to Bloom for cardiac treatment. Abrasive and arrogant, some twenty-five years older than Sophie, he is a Swiss psychologist pursuing a doctorate at the University of Toronto, specializing in Jung. Meanwhile Marianne, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, has come to care about Sophie as deeply as Bloom has.
Bloom and Marianne return from a brief Caribbean vacation to discover Sophie in the emergency room of Sunnybrook hospital, bruised and battered, claiming to have fallen down the stairs. Her husband has also been admitted, after an attack of angina. Attempts to intervene prove fruitless, but Bloom sees a way he could help Sophie: as Maggione’s physician, he is aware of the subtleties of his condition, aware that were Maggione to not have the right medication to hand at the right moment, his life could be in danger.
The novel’s central moral question gains shape: given all he knows about Sophie’s situation — about the violence and suffering she experiences, and her view of it as a kind of religious task — can Bloom justify “altering the odds”? Can he make it less likely that Maggione will pull through his next cardiac malfunction? Bloom’s dilemma, carefully examined and disentangled, will haunt readers of this supple and moving novel long after its resolution.
About the Author
Don Coles is one of Canada’s most successful and respected poets. He studied history at the University of Toronto and took a second degree at Cambridge University, then spent more than a decade on the continent in France, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia. Coles and his wife, Heidi, returned to Canada after the birth of his first child, and he was invited to join the faculty of York University’s humanities department.
“It turned out, after a worrisome few days, that I liked it very much, and I was there for more than thirty years,” he told the Globe and Mail in an interview. He was also, for ten years, Senior Poetry Editor at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Coles recently turned to fiction, in part out of a desire to work “in a more generous and pliant space than my usual genre,” he told the National Post. He described the process of writing Doctor Bloom's Story as: “A sheer joy. . . . And I lived in it for eight or nine hours a day for at least four of the seven days in every week for three years. Not bad for a person generally considered to be, as I'm belatedly realizing, past it.”
Don Coles has published ten books of poetry. He is the recipient of a Governor General’s Award, a Trillium Award and the John Glassco Prize for Translation.
He lives in Toronto.
“Part crisp thriller, part meditation on writing, Doctor Bloom’s Story is wholly marvellous.”—Maclean’s“A straight-ahead, spryly imagined, tightly written tale of suspense. . . This is fabulous stuff. Doctor Bloom’s Story has countless. . .moments that, in their combination of gaiety and sadness, fix themselves in your imagination. . . . Doctor Bloom is surely one of the most memorable and triumphantly conceived characters in recent Canadian fiction.”—The Globe and Mail“Coles writes so elegantly and so convincingly that we would follow him anywhere.”—The Literary Review of Canada“Coles, who has won many awards for collections of poetry, tells Dr. Bloom’s story with an ear attuned to the rhythms of speech and an admirable eye for detail.”—Quill & Quire“Doctor Bloom’s Story is, by turns, witty, contemplative, and spirited story telling. One of our finest poets now proves himself to be an accomplished novelist.”—Guy Vanderhaeghe“Any fan of Coles’ poetry will instantly recognize the distinctive, casually sophisticated voice of this novel, the almost off-hand way it gathers a whole range of interests into a compelling whole. Doctor Bloom’s Story is at once a medical mystery tale, an exploration of the limits of love and friendship, and a tribute to the art of writing — all rolled into an effortlessly seductive narrative. I couldn’t put it down.”—John Bemrose, author of The Island Walkers“Doctor Bloom’s Story is utterly compelling, a novel both wise and wonderful.”—Richard B. Wrigh
1. Consider the narrative voice in which Doctor Bloom’s Story is told. Do you find Dr. Bloom charming, pretentious, wise or…? Why?
2. Which of the main characters do you find most, or least, appealing? And which is most, or least, convincing? Why?
3. What is the significance of the various nicknames Bloom gives himself in the novel? How important is it to the book that he is trying to be a writer?
4. What do you think of the ending of the novel?
5. Choose one of these themes and discuss how the novel explores it: religion, violence, religion, emigration, responsibility, masochism, writing, love.
6. Does Bloom do the right thing? What would you do in his situation?
7. Dr. Coomaraswamy is describing the wounds Maggione inflicts on Sophie — concealed, hard-to-detect bruising:
She said, steadily, “I picture him labouring over her.”
Neither Marianne nor I said a word.
“A kind of artist,” Celia said.
What do you think of this passage? What insights does it give into Maggione, or the other characters’ perception of him?
8. Have you read any other novels by writers who are also poets? How does Doctor Bloom’s Story compare with their efforts? You could consider Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, Al Purdy, etc. (And: how do you think being a poet could affect one’s approach to writing a novel?)
9. What are your criticisms of Doctor Bloom’s Story?
10. Dr. Bloom regularly talks about his love of Chekhov, and many other writers make appearances in his thoughts, from Joyce to Musil to Böll to Orwell. What do you think is the most important literary influence on this novel — and which writers does it most remind you of?