Final Thoughts: St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler


As I said yesterday, I finally finished St. Urbain’s Horseman! I can’t tell you how excited I am. Aside from being able to move onto a new destination, I’m excited to be done with the book because it was starting to feel a bit eternal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d read it more consistently and in a shorter amount of time. C’est la vie, I suppose!

Joey, the Horseman, became a sort of God figure for Jake, who at one point described him as his conscience and moral compass. It’s interesting because by all accounts, Jake had actually spent very little time with cousin Joey. I thought at some point they’d meet again, but they never do. All Jake has are rumors and stories of who Joey was, even his death came to him via someone else and had an air of theory, rather than fact. It’s interesting because there’s a moment when Jake is writing the date of death on a journal that belonged to Joey and after writing he crossed it out to write ‘presumed dead’. That’s an act of faith if there ever was one.

For most of the characters in the book Joey became this idea or concept, bigger than himself. Each of them saw the version of Joey that benefited them or made them feel good about themselves, something they could sustain only because Joey was never around. Even when he was, he wasn’t there long enough for people to get an undeniable sense of who he was and what he wanted.

Jake asks himself, “What if the Horseman was a distorting mirror and we each took the self-justifying image we required of him?”. It’s an interesting idea because it implies that we’ve hollowed out a person, in order to fill them with our own self projections. It’s a bit like what we do with celebrities, we project onto them the rumors and characters that suit us, that make the person seem like someone we’d want to hang out with. Most importantly, I think we use this projection and mirroring effect to create people who would share our grievances and happiness, someone who would actually like us for ourselves.

In Jake’s case though, the Horseman became not an ideal pal, but a role model who held the answers to being a better, stronger man. Joey gave him an ideal, a possibility of someone he could’ve been. When Joey dies, Jake actually considers taking his place and becoming the Horseman. In his mind, Joey was The Golem, a character in Jewish legends that was created to defend the Jews (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please!) and someone needed to take his place. It’s interesting because, even though he existed, all these different characters recreated Joey, if not in their image, then certainly to fill the voids in it.

These are not characters that will break your heart or pull at your heart strings, they feel like regular people. The kind you tolerate some days and can’t wait to be rid of on others. I think that’s part of the book’s charm, that feeling of reading something completely average. There are points when their obsessions become a bit like bits out of a sitcom, but then I think there are probably people who are equally as obsessed.

This is a book I want to reread after a crash course in a lot of different subjects. It’s flooded with historical references, which means it’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the events they’re referencing. Even when you’re lost though, it’s worth a read.

Well, this is it for Canada, folks! It’s taken me a while, but I finally did it and I couldn’t be happier. Now, on to our next destination….. Utah! Stay tuned, readers. The booktrip continues!

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