Foreshadowing: Get it Right! (Canada vs Of a Boy)

WARNING! SPOILER ALERT!!!

Once again, dear reader, I’m publishing an assignment for university, this time on foreshadowing. The downside is that this is a presentation, it isn’t technically a review and it DOES contain spoilery material. The upside? I compare two literary novels, one of which I don’t have the motivation, incentive or inclination to finish and one of which I loved in spite of it being a suburban tragedy, literary fiction and in no way related to science fiction or fantasy. Go figure.

FYI: the book I loved was Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett. Skip the spoilers and go and read it.

Foreshadowing defined

Foreshadowing is essential in good storytelling to avoid cheating the reader. Foreshadowing is a warning, indication or portent relating to a future event (Oxford Dictionary, 2014). According to Jack Hart (p28, 2011) ‘The exposition phase of the story is also the place you tease readers into the action line by foreshadowing the dramatic events that lie just ahead.’

Chekov’s Gun vs Deus ex machina

Another means of foreshadowing and avoiding a deus ex machina is to use Chekov’s gun. Deus ex machina is from Latin, meaning ‘god from the machine’: it’s a plot device where an insolvable problem is magically resolved by a contrived means (Wikipedia, 2014). Chekov’s Gun is in apposition: ‘If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there,’ (TV Tropes, 2014).

Canada vs Of a Boy

In Canada, Richard Ford tells us the protagonist’s parents will rob a bank. Repeatedly. On pages 1, 20, 40, 59, 63… In Of a Boy, Sonya Hartnett foreshadows tragedy with another tragedy: the three missing Metford children foreshadowing the loss – and consequences of the loss – of Adrian and Nicole.

Foreshadowing in Canada

Foster repeatedly tells readers the protagonist’s parents will rob a bank.

  • ‘Our parents were the least likely two people in the world to rob a bank… the moment they did rob a bank’ p1.
  • ‘The world doesn’t usually think about bank robbers as having children…’ p20.
  • ‘…no more ridiculous than robbing a bank’ (p40).
  • ‘…thoughts about robbing a bank–about which bank to rob, and when, and how…’ p 59.
  • ‘the extraordinary idea of finding a bank to rob… he’d already decided robbing a bank was a good idea…’ p 63.

Foreshadowing in Of a Boy

In the prologue the omniscient narrator foreshadows the disappearance of the Metford children in a number of statements including:

  • ‘The mother would remember, later…’ (location 93, 6%)
  • ‘He would tell the police that…’ (location 100, 6%)
  • ‘This witness…’ (location 107, 6%)
  • ‘This would be the last sighting…’ (location 114, 7%)
  • ‘Three children bought no ice cream, did not return home.’ (location 131, 8%)

Significant foreshadowing occurs throughout Of a Boy including:

  • references to graves for both the living and the dead
  • an attempted suicide by a witness who feels responsible for the Metford children
  • people blame the Metford children’s father
  • the Metford children’s parents progressively fade in repeated public appearances
  • Adrian’s uncle Rory is living dead already
  • Adrian’s grandmother felt liberated after grieving for her husband
  • the creepy cupid appears demonic

‘Chekov’s gun’ is a swimming pool, introduced by Adrian: ‘…beyond that, the local swimming pool enclosed behind cyclone wire’ (location 343, 19%). Adrian’s adventures remind us of the existence of the swimming pool: ‘The park is enclosed by… the fence of the local swimming pool’ (location 464, 26%); ‘”It’s the swimming pool”’ (location 519, 29%); and location 527–534 where the pool area is described in detail. The pool and water become euphemisms for something bad:

  • ‘Into the pits of their stomachs had seeped a pool of dismay’ (location 712, 40%)
  • ‘He feels the blood pool in his cheeks’ (location 1069, 59%)
  • When Adrian meets Nicole for their fatal excursion, ‘the track… is puddled with shallow rainpools’ (location 1660, 92%).
  •  ‘It’s sad that it’s been dredged from its cold water grave’ (location 149, 9%)
  • Adrian thinks of water scheming ‘in the pits of the ocean’ (location 315, 18%)
  • Water is threatening (location 467, 26%); water ‘spits’ and ‘burns’ (location 1148, 64%); ‘Water gushes like a solid crystal stake’ (location 1357, 75%).
  • The psychic ‘reckons [the missing Metford children] are near water’ (location 1340, 74%)

Canada failed to engage me because Ford harped on about the future, using too much exposition with too little showing, crossing the line into melodrama. In contrast, Hartnett builds tension through foreshadowing, first with the disappearance of the Metford children, then weaving the public consciousness of their story into Adrian’s story. Hartnett uses imagery associated with water, starting with the sea monster and Adrian’s fears, linking the pool as something sinister, gradually building tension to a crescendo. Although there’s a sense of inevitability to this suburban tragedy, Hartnett’s excellent prose and imagery creates a riveting read.

Foreshadowing what is Foreshadowing? Chekov's Gun Canada vs Of a Boy in Canada in Of a Boy Of a Boy Of a Boy Of a Boy Of a Boy Primary differences between Canada and Of a boy: bibliography