Quill and Quire reviews The Girls Who Saw Everything

By Matthew Fox
Quill & Quire
July/August 2007

In fiction, homage is a tricky undertaking. Should an author indulge readers of the original, or satisfy those as yet unfamiliar? In The Girls Who Saw Everything, a resetting of The Epic of Gilgamesh in contemporary Montreal, Sean Dixon resoundingly chooses the former.

This is underlined by Dixon's creation of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club, a crew of readers who deepen their understanding of literary works by acting them out. The novel – Dixon's first – follows the members as the enact Gilgamesh and slowly discover that the "first book ever written" is powerful enough to control their fates. While attempts are made to explain the original, only readers familar with Gilgamesh will appreciate the full significance of the novel's machinations, because Dixon himself never settles on a single interpretation.

This serves as both the book's conceit and its central theme: that there are many ways to read a story. There are even two narrators, who, largely absent from the action, must piece the tale together from sources of varying reliability, including their own "reading" of situations, statements, and characters. Dixon invokes different forms of writing – memoir, essay, journalism, myth, poetry, correspondence, etc. – and a number of literary in-jokes to call attention to the number of layers through whch his book can be read.

The result is an unapologetically high-concept novel that is both giddy and reverential. Dixon's playwrighting background comes through in his handling of the "performance" aspect of his club's mandate, but also in the chatty tone of his narration and in dialogue that transforms ancient ideas into contemporary vernacular. Dixon's talents, however, extend beyond theatrics: flashbacks and set pieces are tightly written and offer the full-bodied coherence one expects from a novel.

As the story closes – happily, absurdly – Dixon strains to remain faithful to his source material. The pace needlessly increases, and several baffling, forced passages are required to keep the texts parallel. Still, though the text groans under the weight of its pretensions, it never collapses.

– Matthew Fox, author of Cities of Weather

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