Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Fiction Literary

The Syllabus

by (author) Mike Barnes

Porcupine's Quill
Initial publish date
Oct 2002
Literary, Canadian
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2002
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


With section titles like 'e-mails to the coast', 'Accelerator', 'Decelerator', and 'Postscript: Three Teachers', the narrator of The Syllabus -- M -- digresses, fantasizes, catalogues and invents, slowly recovering the strands of childhood exploration and adolescent obsession, joy and morbidity, that have led him to both alienation and freedom. First friend, first love, first sex, inklings of vocation: all of the elements of the Bildungsroman are here, but put in a high-speed blender that tracks the hallucinatory smears they leave on the mind. Using a collage-like technique that mixes times and genres -- flashing forward and backward in a narrative that is, by turns, confessional, meditative, lyrical and comic -- The Syllabus traces the crooked path by which one student makes his way through, and beyond, the proscribed syllabus.

About the author

Mike Barnes is the author of the novels Catalogue Raisonn? and The Syllabus, the short fiction collections Aquarium -- winner of the 1999 Danuta Gleed Award -- and Contrary Angel, and two poetry collections, Calm Jazz Sea, shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial award, and a thaw foretold. His stories have appeared twice in Best Canadian Stories, three times in The Journey Prize Anthology, and won the Silver Medal for Fiction at the National Magazine Awards. He was the subject of a feature issue of The New Quarterly (Summer 2001) which included an interview and three new stories. In 2008 he released his first non-fiction title, The Lily Pond: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, Myth and Metamorphosis. Formerly a piano teacher, fishing guide, janitor, steelworker, dishwasher, clock salesman, security guard, English teacher, in recent years he has been working as a private tutor. He lives in Toronto.

Mike Barnes' profile page

Excerpt: The Syllabus (by (author) Mike Barnes)

The opening of The Syllabus:

SUBJECT: your questionnaire


dear w --


are you sure?

(or just: are you serious?)

i see what you mean about the 'memory tree', endlessly branching into stems, leaves, roots -- or directories and subdirectories, as you say, the computer analogy. that could be interesting.

but it also has the potential -- no? -- to lead to total meltdown. uncontrolled revisitings, associational rampages. chaos, in short.

and we both know what that could mean.


just checking, m

Editorial Reviews

'Toronto's Mike Barnes drew some very favourable notices for his 1999 debut story collection, Aquarium. Now he's accepted quite the challenge in attempting to marry the techniques of collage and the lower-case nature of e-mail writing into a sustained novel. Don't fear, Barnes' The Syllabus ... does have a plot. Our troubled narrator, dubbed simply 'M', is asked by a psychologist to help him research the nature of memory by revisiting his own youth and reporting the results via the Internet.'

Toronto Star

'This is a funny book. There are moments of pure childhood stupidity and ignorance that made me laugh out loud. Particularly hilarious is a moment when a boy in high school, determined to get back at the person who is stealing his lunch, carefully empties an Oh Henry chocolate bar of its ''solid core of caramel'' and refills it with lead shavings, cat excrement, litter and other awful things. He then seals the chocolate bar back up and delights in imagining the victim's response to the first bite: ''One stupefied grunt when the taste cuts through the sugar, then bleats and yelps rising to a terrified crescendo, subsiding (very, very slowly) to the deep anguished lowing of a gored steer.'' '

Globe and Mail