Anarchist Everett McQuade declares Whalebone Island in Nova Scotia an independent republic. Is anarchy a viable way of life? The island is home to independent fishers, children who have never had a formal education, pioneers of equal rights, and refugees from the city. Anarchy might be the best policy here. But can anarchy last when Everett McQuade wins a seat in the Halifax parliament?
I am reminded of LeGuinn’s The Dispossessed. Shevek leaves his home, a rebel moon colony that lives without government, to travel to the mother planet to advance a device that will provide instantaneous universal communication. Everett too leaves his little world for the city of Halifax, hoping to start a world revolution. Not easy, to be sure. Early on Everett confesses, “It’s not like on the island. Things are much more complicated.” (pg. 113).
Fortunately, there are forces more powerful than politics at work. Everett met his wife at sea, floating in a barrel, her hair shorn. The birth of his son was heralded by dolphins and his daughter was born during a hurricane. Everett’s wife, named Dorothy for the manner of her discovery, has no memory of her past. In exchange, she seems to have uncommon perceptions and powers that are called upon during Everett’s absence in Halifax. The magical realism of Dorothy and Whalebone Island is persuasive of the mystical influences at work in our world.
The story really belongs to their son, Ian, who grows up witnessing events that at first seem to be American issues: the atom bomb, the Vietnam war. Ian must struggle with the two powers of his parents. Is anarchy realistic in the world? Can it improve the world or is it a destructive force that must be tamed for the greater good? Are there powers in the world besides politics, inner voices which can guide Ian to help others, or is he simply going crazy? Can he make a difference, or will he be another victim? In the end, Whalebone Island emerges as an important political haven, mirroring Canada’s own rise on the world stage during the story’s events.
The Republic of Nothing is a story of an island where any of us would like to live. It is a story of family and friendship and love, politics and mysticism and true power. Mostly it is a coming of age story of Ian, who ultimately learns an ancient lesson from his elderly friend, Ben, as he builds his home one stone at a time, “Notice how one illogical piece of rock can nest perfectly in the shoulders of one another and how some renegade dodecahedron of a stone gets rejected from use a hundred times and then suddenly a place opens up for it, cries out for just that stone. A lesson there.” (pg. 148-149).