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Centretown News Online
Sunday, July 22, 2020
Book Review: The Underling
Friday, 16 March 2020
By Galen Simmons
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Published in : Centretown News, Our Critics

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Frances McFadden had little notion as to how many adventures, triumphs, and tragedies she would face upon dropping out of the High School of Commerce and accepting a job with the emerging Canadian Financial Resources Agency – and neither did I. For a historical fiction based locally, I never expected to get such a thrill following McFadden’s journey in helping to establish the Bank of Canada.

McFadden was only 17 when she was enlisted in 1934 by her high school principal to help the eccentric Dr. Wilbur Grace establish an archival base for the soon-to-exist Bank of Canada. With the help of Grace and a keen ability to make and maintain as many professional contacts as possible working both with and within the Canadian Government, McFadden continuously finds ways to make herself indispensable to the sort of economic reform the Bank of Canada would eventually bring.

Her new-found indispensability allows McFadden to find ways to make working in the dominantly male world of banking not only tolerable, but down-right exciting. McFadden quickly wins over the respect and admiration of her employees, her bosses, and anyone else she comes in contact with using the most effective of Canadian weapons available, politeness.

Reading The Underling from the perspective of someone living in Ottawa gives a whole new layer to the story. For me, one of the best aspects to this book was the obviously meticulous research that was put into recreating the city as it stood in the 1930s. From Rochester Street to Elgin Street., from the Chateau Laurier to Holt Renfrew, author Ian McKercher takes his readers back 75 years and keeps them there for 361 pages.

 The Underling

By Ian McKercher
General Store Publishing House
361 pages, $22

McKercher is a long-time resident of the Glebe and Old Ottawa South. Having written more than 100 articles for the Glebe Report, The Underling is McKercher’s first attempt at fiction. As a new author, McKercher’s characters are well-developed, the driving force of the story is clear and well-focused, and his writing is detailed to the point of near-authenticity.

McKercher tackled the issues of the 1930s with tact and historical accuracy. His portrayal of McFadden’s fight for women’s rights within the Bank of Canada was done in a way which gave such an important issue of the day its due course, but at the same time McKercher did not let the issue take over as the focus of the story.

The book, after all, is not just about a woman’s struggle for equality (McFadden is treated better than many of her male colleagues throughout the book), but is instead an underdog story of an unlikely character’s climb to power and influence. McFadden’s youth and gender only add to the unlikeliness of her adventures and her eventual success.

The Underling is a first-rate read, although, without giving anything away, I’m not sure I entirely liked the ending. You’ll have to read it for yourself.

Last update : 22-03-2020 16:20

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