The Overcast’s Recommended Read of the Month … and 2017’s Governor General’s Award Winner for Fiction

Hynes' novel, We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night, is a nuanced portrayal of a man coming to terms with the abuse he’s endured, and the abuse he’s inflicted on women.

After receiving rave reviews in publications all across Canada, Newfoundland Author Joel Thomas Hynes’ new book We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night has been nominated for the country’s biggest literary prize, The Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has won the esteemed Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction.

Hynes is the author of three other novels, as well as several scripts for the stage and screen. His work is often about humanizing hardcases; many of his protagonists are tough young men who’ve been shaped by a difficult upbringing in rural Newfoundland. Hynes is interested in fate, a lot of his protagonists have been told all their lives they’re bad and come to believe it, and act accordingly, but not without remorse. We’ll All be Burned In Our Beds Some Night’s Johnny is no exception.

When the book opens Johnny is on probation, awaiting trial for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. He’s leaning out a bedroom window on Lime Street, smoking and watching his neighbour put out the garbage. He’s thinking how nice it must be to have your life together enough to remember to put out the garbage. When the neighbour calls out “Good night” and “excuse me..what?” it sends Johnny into a rage, thinking the man is being, “Right grand about it.”

Most of the book is written in the third person but there are places, like in this scene with the pompous garbage guy, where the narration momentarily slips into first person. This shift between first and third person is a way of establishing Johnny as an unreliable narrator, as someone who is crafting a story in a way that benefits him and presenting it as objective.

For most of the book, Johnny is vehement that he did not attack his girlfriend. But the trips in the narrative voice, combined with the unwarranted aggression in the first scene subtly let the reader know that we can’t trust Johnny’s account. He’s not an obviously monstrous predator who assaults strangers, he’s the more common, harder-to-spot kind of abuser. He is charming, funny, and very much in love with his ex-girlfriend, but also devastatingly guilty of attacking her.

When Johnny’s ex-girlfriend dies of an overdose the night before his trial, he ends up hitchhiking across the country with a plan to sprinkle her ashes on a beach she loved in British Columbia. Over the course of the journey, he revisits a number of painful childhood memories, scenes of violence and neglect that feel ruinous and real; the question of fate is burbling beneath all these memories. Hynes is asking if it’s possible to stop perpetuating violence if we have been raised with it.

In the wake of the #metoo social media campaign launched to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault, there has been a call for men to acknowledge how they are complicit in rape culture. Hynes’ novel, We’ll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night, is a nuanced portrayal of a man coming to terms with the abuse he’s endured, and the abuse he’s inflicted on women.

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23 Comments

  • FYI, Under new Overcast guidelines; commenting on the author negatively like this means the comments are going to be removed.

    • Negative comments are not banned – maybe give that policy another read? And technically these are about the subject not the author (though the subject is an author – weird, right?). I think there is enough content to justify the less substantive bits, personally, but will leave that to our overlords.

      • This issue relates to the “5 Feminist Tactics” whereby people were commenting on how they thought feminism was bullshit. The OVERCAST authored the piece based on Chandra K’s ideas. Comments were deleted because they attack feminism, and I guess since Chandra is a feminist, it was offensive (weird, right?).
        Maybe you should read it all again. The policy has some holes in it and the Overcast acknowledge this.
        You must be in that group of people that eschews critical thinking.

        • Show me a critical thought I can eschew, would ya? Maybe that one about Chandra’s feminism making her poor marrying material? Hell, feminism is all about critical thought – it is a tool for critique. If anything, attacking (your word) the idea rather than engaging with it (or offering something better) is the anti-thought approach. Weird, right?

          • Feminism is all about critical thought? Maybe you should think critically about that comment.
            Most modern feminists still use stats thats have been proven to be false, such as Wage Gap (see Christina Hoff Sommers “Gender Wage Gap Myth”, Thomas Sowell’s “Pay Gap Myths”).
            Feminists often claim to be on the side of science, yet arbitrarily decide when human life begins, not to mention they often have no idea about biological differences in Males and Females.
            Eschew away.

    • Wrong, that policy only applies to commenters who are criticizing radical feminism. Joel Hynes is a white dude so he’s fair game.

  • Maybe. And the artist and the art can be separate. So maybe the book is a deserving winner. But interviews to date about the GG win? Still a knob. But with all the writers and MFA programs in the country and this is tops? Again, maybe so. However, I think persona and the Canadian taste for Newfoundland exotica are part of the decision. Expect a Shelagh Rogers rave while recounting her stories of skinny dipping in Woody Point. Newfoundland books are now ‘Newfoundland books’ -a still-trendy CanLit subset. Our culture is the country’s petting zoo and spinning myths from easy stereotypes is its own industry.

      • Do you even read CanLit, bro? Figures how? Here’s the book on Atwood: booster and apologist for Joseph Boyden (for more on the rot in CanLit, see ‘Boyden, Joseph’), ringleader for the CanLit establishment rallying around a disgraced UBC MFA faculty member accused of sexual impropriety because this person was ‘in’, elevated Vincent Lam to publication and a Giller win after she met him on a cruise. On a cruise! Just sprinkled him with fairy dust and, well, there’s your Giller winner. Great writer, yes, but indicative of where CanLit is and how it works now. But perhaps you can’t name another CanLit writer besides Atwood. Yah, figures.

        I hope I’m in-bounds of the Overcast new guidelines here, gentle moderator ‘Tears On Your Pillow’. I feel I should be allowed to respond to a direct comment, no? PS Tears: If you’re the moderator/admin here, why not use your real name? And what’s your investment in the CanLit structure?

        • Sounds like someone is pissed their english degree hasn’t done more for them; you’re so knowledgeable and what a waste! No one gives a shit..
          Honestly i just have a laugh calling out people who talk shit and can’t back it up. Bashing a book you haven’t read, why so jealous?
          Figures…Neurotiscm behind a political mask

          • Thank you for conceding that I know more about the topic than you do. It’s oddly satisfying to see a troll roll over and show their belly. (PS: Still can’t name another Canadian author besides Atwood? You obviously know how to use the internet. Give it a try! Or for more information, visit your local library.)

        • Firstname blah blah blah

          Who do you think is deserving of the award?
          You’re obviously in the industry, because no one actually cares enough to talk about “Canlit” as much as you. It’s quite funny actually.

          Let’s hear your opinion, Canlit ambassador. Teach the rest of us what a REAL intellectual reads. Although i’m sure if anyone wanted to know, they could find you displaying them, stacked, spine out, at a local coffee shop.

          • Ehhh Tears you’re not coming out ahead here. FML is at least offering an opinion and yes, does seem to care about the topic. Caring is cool, haven’t you heard? So far you’ve tossed out some tired stereotypes and frankly boring indifference. If you don’t care enough to engage in discussion, why pick a fight?

          • Someone alert Stan Dragland to write this shit down. Troll! I set you free! Who is Stan Dragland? Go fetch, boy. Go learn something about your own culture.

          • Son, go get yourself a library card. Better yet, go get yourself one of those English degrees. I’m done schooling you. Now you’ve even got other commenters jumping in to point out how much you’re embarrassing yourself. But I’ll throw you one more bone, since you’re begging: how about reading Ed Riche? Writes right here for the Overcast, so you don’t even need to venture off this sight. His book ‘Today I Learned it Was You’ was named yesterday to the International DUBLIN Literary Award long list. Big award that, as far as I can tell, is not just an inside-industry tool for bumping up sales- and chosen by libraries. Riche writes about Newfoundland without cliche or stereotypes in a fresh way, and without pandering to a market-tested Canadian audience. So, congrats Ed. And he even has a new play opening at the Hall this Thursday – Dedication – so if you’ve never actually read a book, you could go see that instead.

            You good now?

          • HAHAHAHAHHA done schooling him? You talk about canlit, then can’t even step outside the province!
            Sorry Firstname… you’re the one embarrassing yourself

          • AHHH Figures! FML is a local suck-up! Now it all makes sense!
            Glad that library card works for you, Poindexter!

  • CanLit is broken. Titilating slumming for Ontario suburbanites from a man who wears hardass Newfie like a Halloween costume: inauthentically. “I’m an outsider, b’y.” “I’m going to wear my leather jacket to the GG awards, b’y.” The crowd that knows him from beating around downtown back when know what he really is: a knob. A knob who got a pass for bad behaviour from the arts crowd because he was anointed as an insider to the scene by pedigree and ‘that’s just Joel, b’y” and let’s laugh it off. But the Canadians have bought the act. Newfie stereotypes safely under glass ’cause they’re lit-rat-ture from a daring voice. Yes, I’m posting anonymously. Because it’s heresy to say otherwise if you’re in the scene. So nod your head to yourself in silence if you agree.

      • Didn’t read ‘to book’. But I’ve read others by him. Good, not great. But perhaps this is a masterpiece. Or perhaps hype and persona mean more than words on the page. Perhaps a middle-brow slum through Newfieland is what sets the CanLit world on fire.

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