The Best Laid Plans by Terry FallisI will admit I was a bit apprehensive about this book initially because I am not well-versed in politics — nor do I want to be.

However, Terry Fallis managed to make the political observations, proceedings, and commentary manageable enough for the regular reader. And I must say, I did enjoy his wry humour.

A burnt-out politcal aide quits just before an election — but is forced to run a hopeless campaign on the way out. He makes a deal with a crusty old Scot, Angus McLintock — an engineering professor who will do anything, anything, to avoid teaching English to engineers — to let his name stand in the election. No need to campaign, certain to lose, and so on.

Then a great scandal blows away his opponent, and to their horror, Angus is elected. He decides to see what good an honest M.P. who doesn’t care about being re-elected can do in Parliament. The results are hilarious — and with chess, a hovercraft, and the love of a good woman thrown in, this very funny book has something for everyone.

From the publisher, McClelland & Stewart*

I have to say that I really enjoyed the main characters, Daniel and Angus, but I felt like Angus’ diary entries were a cheeky way of getting his point of view across. I can see how this may have worked as a podcast (see footnote) if you’re using different voices, but in print it seems a bit off. However, once I got into the book and characters, it stopped bothering me.

My favourite part was when Daniel saw his girlfriend having relations with their boss and regressed into Parliamentary Procedure terminology to describe the scene. I’ve been in groups twice now where it’s been either read out loud or passed around on an smartphone. If you want to listen to it, check out the Best Laid Plans podcast (Prologue, about 16min 19sec) — so worth it!

While I don’t particularly follow politics, these three ideas really seemed to sum up why I don’t like politics:

I’d like to share some Angus wisdom:

“Every candidate in this country should be thinkin’ first about the national interest, second about their constituents’ interests, and third about their own interests. Everyone is more concerned with their own fortunes and with the nation’s. That’s the problem with the democratic institutions in this country. It’s no wonder voters are cynical.” … He laid bare the great paradox of Canadian politics … As Winston Churchill once observed, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms.”

And here are two musings from Daniel:

The Government was under unprecedented pressure to lay out, in clear, unequivocal terms, the economic plan that would carry the country until the budget in February. But pressure doesn’t always have the desired effect. In fact, nothing tends to stiffen a government’s spine and harden its resolve like an aggressive and relentless opposition. After all, human nature has always been a driving force in politics. As a species, we really don’t like being told what to do.

There are some honest and upstanding politicians in this country who try every day to do the right thing, make the right decision, and choose the right path, yet still, seldom get it right. They’re not dumb. It’s just not that easy.

These summed up my thoughts exactly. We’re told who to vote for and why during election campaigns, then they are unable to follow through on their promises (which may not be entirely their fault) and we keep screwing over the country/planet by thinking in short-term solutions.

That’s just my two cents and a teeny tiny rant.

A couple times I felt like the book lacked direction. Once the initial campaign was over and Angus is elected, I felt like the book wavered. When I spoke to some other people about it, they felt that it was established enough that it was a minority government that could crumble at any time. However I felt that they also reiterated the point that Angus was elected for a four-year term. This is more of a curious observation than a criticism because I enjoyed Daniel and Angus’ story very much.

But despite these minor criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and think that most Canadians would enjoy it too. It certainly is clever yet still a bit cynical and embodies Canadian citizens with near-perfect satire. The Best Laid Plans has a very good chance at winning Canada Reads 2011. It delivers a good story with laughs and compelling characters, and isn’t too dense to read.

*From the cover: Terry Fallis got tired of waiting for a literary agent or a publisher to decide to take on is book. So he recorded a reading of his novel, and released it, chapter by chapter, as a podcast. People really liked it. Encouraged by that reaction, he published the book on his own. Again people really liked it. Then it won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, beating out major authors published by the big houses. And people really liked that.

P.S. There is a sequel called The High Road published September 2010.