“Sussex Drive is a pungent, brilliant, raucous political novel about the Ottawa of 2008, the notorious moment in Canada’s political life when Harper prorogued parliament for the first time. Svendsen boldly goes where others fear to tread…a novel that Mordecai Richler would have wished he’d written, the sort of novel this country is crying out for.”
– Elizabeth Hay, novelist
Prorogue-a-palooza. In December 2008, my life stopped. I was transfixed by what was going on in boring Ottawa: the left had responded to the minority Conservative fiscal update by uniting to form a coalition and overturn the government. Chaos, collusion, conspiracies and murmurs about coups occurred and the country held its breath while the Liberal-appointed Governor General flew home from Europe. The most amazing thing was that few people, including constitutional scholars, seemed to understand the powers of the Governor General and how Canada was supposed to work.
So I wondered: what would happen in a fictional world if the First Lady of Canada and her carpooling neighbour, the Governor General, could no longer play “Follow the Leader”? How would that work?
Sussex Drive is the result of my musings, loosely based on current events in our capital and research I’d explored for other projects involving Afghanistan and Africa, with a sidebar on Haiti. It’s also a little nod to chick-lit, parenting, and redacted documents.
The original title was Prorogue, but when I tried to explain what this was to my New York agent, I finally turned to Sussex Drive. It has since been pointed out that this title, over the unmade bed in the jacket art, makes it sound like “sex drive.” However, this is definitely not Fifty Shades of (Earl) Grey.
I wrote the first 150 pages before the 2010 Canadian election in which the Conservatives received their long-coveted majority. I finished it between January and June 2012. My co-editors, Anne Collins and Deirdre Molina, offered incredible support.
A last minute change to the manuscript involved the Governor General’s son, Niko. In an earlier draft, he was Japanese; in the next-to-final draft, he became First Nations. In 1972, after I’d graduated from high school, I’d spent the summer as an Anglican youth worker on the Mistassini Cree reserve in northern Quebec. I’d brought books with me: Future Shock, some Jane Austen, but there wasn’t electricity (or running water) and I read by candlelight. I stayed with Charlotte and Sam Matoush, and their Nokum, and daughter and son-in-law and baby, and four young sisters in a two bedroom cabin. Matthew Coon-Come, the former AFN leader, was a friend of our group. I’ve never forgotten trapping, canoeing, and collecting legends from the elders (which my friend would translate into English and illustrate).
It became really important to me that the Governor General’s son become Niko Neeposh.
“Sussex Drive is unabashedly entertaining and uses the privilege of fiction to talk about the behind-the-scenes drama that shapes public life. This novel is especially to be welcomed because it’s the type of book Canadian writers rarely tackle, engaging public political issues as well as domestic life and borrowing heavily from the techniques of genre literature.”
– Jeet Heer, National Post
“Svendsen impresses in her ability to twist and shape reality in ways that almost allow us to forget that some of the ridiculous events she describes actually happened. With wit, intelligence, and satirical mastery, Svendsen leads readers into a world of sex, lies and politics that resonates even as it entertains.”
– Dory Cerny, Quill & Quire
“Only in Canada could a political roman à clef be animated by a non-confidence motion and bickering about the Constitution. Svendsen coaxes well-researched material into a light, breezy read … There’s no Rosebud moment, but enough insider-ish details and Canuck branding touchstones—Roots, Joe Fresh, HBC—to give readers outside the Ottawa fishbowl a sense of being plugged in.”
– Anne Kingston, Maclean’s
“OK, it’s political satire, but you may never view certain politicians the same way again. Best of all, you may want to start paying more attention to what goes on in Ottawa. Not really Dullsville after all. Or as Svendsen says, “If anyone wants tent pole gossip that will make the Petraeus circus fold up flat away, look no further than [insert] name-here and Google. Gossip in the Canadian government is way wilder than fiction.”
– Fiona Hughes, The Vancouver Courier
“Literary satire is something of an outlier in CanLit, which makes Linda Svendsen’s new novel Sussex Drive – a witty send-up of Stephen Harper’s ruthless rise to power – a welcome pleasure.”
– Deborah Campbell, The Tyee
“Under Svendsen’s deft touch, Ottawa politics are dirty and dangerous, at home and abroad.”
– Linda Diebel, The Toronto Star