I consider Sheppard’s book a masterpiece not to be let out of my sight. I left it on my shelf for months, daunted by its size, not wanting to spend so much time on only one book. A week ago I picked it up and read the first page. The result has been that every spare moment has been spent reading it and I have underlined and underlined, turned down pages, inserted index tabs, lived, breathed and slept the book. One of the reviews calls it “a book without equal in Canadian Literature.” I would agree with that. Nothing that anyone says about the book conveys the magnitude of its scope, the depths to which it plumbs the human heart. I am dumb before it and will never be quite the same as I was before reading it. It is a life’s work, a magnum opus.
This book is the fullest, most differentiated account of the destruction that accompanies artistic creation that I have ever read. That is the aspect of it that moves me most deeply. When I put it down, I wanted to cry tears of thankfulness that there are such people in the world as Aquin’s wife, Andrée, and Sheppard. Andrée is the bravest shadow-seeker I have ever “met.” She has faced the darkness of life, and has faced her own darkness courageously. Her desire to know herself is greater than her desire to think well of herself, greater than anything. That is SO rare, when the darkness is as dark as that in which she has found herself. Re Sheppard, Rilke says, “Great works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience.” Sheppard has gone right to the end of this experience and has indeed created a great work of art. I am in awe. I was filled with humility, and wanting to go down on my knees when I finished this book. In the courage with which it looks into the heart of darkness, HA! has brought me into the presence of the mysterium, as did the ending of Kieslowski’s Blue and the scene of the old professor visiting Vivian at the end of Mike Nichol’s film Wit. This is a book of monumental courage, enormous research and searing integrity and it will still be standing when all of us are dust in the mouth of the earth.
HA! comes the closest to defeating the passage of time of anything I have ever experienced. It comes closest to the multi-dimensioned nature of life of anything I have ever read. And what is defeating the passage of time but defeating death itself?! No wonder I felt as if I was moving through ”the white fire of a great mystery.” The ultimate paradox is that this book about death actually comes as close as is humanly possible to defeating death. This is why I staggered forth from this book using words like the mysterium tremendens. This is why I say that HA! will still be standing when all of us are dust in the mouth of the earth.