Toronto Book Awards – Reviewing The Parabolist

The 2011 Toronto Book Awards is being covered by our guest blogger Christine Sweeton. To read more about her, click here.

Upon telling her mother about her plans to write for The Word On The Street blog and review the five books shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards this year, her mother promptly asked for the titles to read them as well. An avid reader herself, in some instances she provides her assistance, observations, and opinions to our guest blogger. To read more about our guest blogger’s mother, click here.

Join Christine and her mother as they work their way through the 5 shortlisted titles, then visit The Toronto Book Awards Tent to see the finalists on read on stage. The winner will be announced by the City of Toronto on October 13th.


Nicholas Ruddock’s novel, The Parabolist, has been promoted as a satirical crime thriller. It is true that the story is at times comic and at times horrific but behind the mystery and murder lies a complex story about love, both physical and emotional. Ruddock’s captivating novel features a vast spectrum of the many manifestations of love and sex: casual, passionate, unrequited, extramarital, violent, and perverse.

“It was at one of the poetry classes that John Glass first heard of Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal, a passing reference by Roberto Moreno. Because of that, from the next day on, he carried a tattered edition of Baudelaire wherever he went. It might have been the fatal blow for him, for his academic career, this Baudelaire. He’d already stropping going to all his classes except embryology, a curious psychological quirk because embryology was difficult and tedious. It was perverse, the attraction he had to that minor course. It was self-destructive, the attention he paid to it.”

— From The Parabolist by Nicholas Ruddock

John Glass and a loose knit group of medical students form the central characters for Ruddock’s novel. However, ‘the parabolist’ of the title is a young Mexican poet named Roberto Moreno. Glass and his fellow students become enthralled in not only the poetry of Moreno’s class but but also the charismatic young instructor himself. All the characters are well developed and will catch your interest.

The novel is framed by a gruesome rape and attempted murder; the story follows the investigation into the crime and the intriguing mystery of two drunk strangers who save the victim by killing the assailant. The police figure out the details of the indecent only to avoid arrest in a debate about vigilante justice. As the students live in 1975 Toronto, the novel shows a realistically gritty version of our city, set in student apartments and dingy bars.

The criminal investigation, and the descriptions of Toronto student life, are surrounded by dueling narratives of literature and medicine. As the students spend the year dissecting a cadaver and investigating poetry they discover more about themselves and each other. The story studies the profound impact these two courses have on each of the different characters. The descriptions of their work with the cadaver are detailed in a clinically factual style. The technical dissection is mirrored in the students frequent attempts to understand the poetry present in Moreno’s class.

Ruddock has created a novel where it is easy to care about each and every character and the story flows well between their narratives. You will be mesmerized all the way to The Parabolist’s mesmerizing conclusion. A great read!!!


All of the shortlisted novels will be featured in the Toronto Book Awards Tent at The Word On The Street! The Parabolist by Nicholas Ruddock will be presented by at both 1:00pm and 4:30pm.


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