The National Film Board of Canada: Background information when reading The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

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The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

by Heather Smith

The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith X
The Agony of Bun O'Keefe by Heather Smith
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 26, 2019, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky

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About this Book

The National Film Board of Canada

This article relates to The Agony of Bun O'Keefe

The title of Heather Smith's novel, The Agony of Bun O'Keefe, is inspired by a 27-minute documentary called The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan [see full film below], which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1978. The film chronicles the effort of Quinlan, one of 5,000 people living on the streets in Montreal, to get sober.

For Bun O'Keefe, the protagonist in Smith's novel, The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan provides fortification against a world she does not yet know. She has memorized the documentary script and even the various intonations of the narrator, and repeats bits in moments when she's not sure what to do or how to react – kind of like Jimmy Quinlan trying to face down the world and forge a path of sobriety for himself.

That was, in essence, the purpose of these documentary films; they were created to shed light on the lives of Canadians from many perspectives and situations. When the National Film Board was founded on May 2, 1939, the state of ...

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