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One From the Archive: ‘The Hundred Year House’ by Rebecca Makkai ***

The Hundred Year House is author Rebecca Makkai’s second novel.  It follows the success of her quirky book-loving The Borrower, which was published in 2011.  The Hundred Year House is marketed as ‘a dazzlingly original and deeply rewarding generational saga in reverse’.  Thus, the novel begins in 1999, and is consequently split into four parts – 1999, 1955, 1929 and 1900.  Interestingly, the unusual structure of the novel has allowed Makkai to end her work with a prologue.

9780434023431The Hundred Year House focuses upon the eccentric Devohr family, who, in the novel’s opening, are living on the family’s land somewhere near Lake Michigan.  The family’s mother, Gracie, claims that she can tell one’s lot in life solely by examining their teeth, and her husband Bruce, is busy obtaining supplies for the impending Millennium apocalypse.  Gracie’s daughter, Zee, is: ‘a Marxist literary scholar – this was how she actually introduced herself at wine and cheese receptions, leaving Doug to explain to the confused physics professor or music department secretary that this was more a theoretical distinction than a political one’.  Her husband Doug, fancying himself as a serious biographer, has been tasked – rather embarrassingly – with ghostwriting a series of young adult books when finding that he is short on work.

As well as these living characters, we as readers are also introduced to Zee’s great-grandmother, Violet, a ghost whose presence is rooted firmly within the walls.  It is said that Violet killed herself in the house at the turn of the century, but nobody seems to know quite how, or why: ‘For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.  She had lived, she was unhappy, and she died by her own hand somewhere in that vast house.  If the house hadn’t been a mansion, if the death hadn’t been a suicide, if Violet Devohr’s dark, refined beauty hadn’t smoldered down from that massive oil portrait, it wouldn’t have been a ghost story at all’.

The focus of Doug’s biography is tragic poet Edwin Parfitt, who lived in the Devohr’s family home when it was Laurelfield Arts Colony.  Rather than allow him access to the archives of this period in the house’s history, Gracie ‘guards the files with a strange ferocity’, as though she is unwilling to give up any of the house’s secrets.  In order to fully introduce all of the protagonists, the novel takes each of them in turn as the focal point for consecutive chapters.  As the periods change, we learn more about the mysteries surrounding the house, and subsequently the Devohr family.

Whilst The Hundred Year House is well written – the prose can be witty and quite dry in its humour and asides, as well as exquisitely rendered – there are some flaws within the novel.  Whilst the scene is set well at first, not enough use has been made of either the social or historical settings as the story reaches its earlier periods, and nothing seems to be tethered quite as well as it should be to make Makkai’s a believable journey through the history of a grand house.  At first, her characters and situations feel realistic, but this element too is lost as we are taken back in time.  Whilst the first section serves to engage and intrigue, subsequent parts of the novel do not; they feel, on the whole, flat, repetitive, and nowhere near as well written.  Whilst The Hundred Year House is an incredibly interesting novel in terms of the backward approach to its structure, it appears rather inconsistent and is even a little disappointing.

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‘Kamchatka’ by Marcelo Figueras ****

Marcelo Figueras’ Kamchatka, which is set in Argentina, was the final South American book of my Around the World in 80 Books challenge.  Kamchatka, which has been translated from its original Spanish by Frank Wynne, is a coming of age story which was shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Kamchatka was a novel which I have never seen reviewed on blogs or Goodreads, and was so intrigued by the storyline that I did not consider any other books set in Argentina for my challenge.  It seems to have slipped beneath the radar somewhat.  Regardless, there are many positive reviews which adorn the paperback copy of the novel.  In her review in The Times, for instance, Kate Saunders says that ‘Figueras writes with power and insight about the ways in which a child uses imagination to make sense of a terrifying and baffling reality.’  The Financial Times call it ‘brilliantly observed’ and ‘heartbreaking’.

9780802170873Kamchatka follows ten-year-old Harry, whose name is a false one he has to adopt after his family are forced to flee, calling himself after Harry Houdini, an obsession of his.  Harry, whose world is made up of make-believe and superheroes, lives in Buenos Aires during the 1976 coup d’etat.  His father leaves the family – Harry, his mother, and his younger brother, who calls himself Simon – at a petrol station on the outskirts of the city: ‘He kissed me, his stubble scratching my cheek, then climbed into the Citroen.  The car moved off along the undulating ribbon of road, a green bubble bobbing into view with every hill, getting smaller and smaller until I couldn’t see it any more.  I stood there for a long while, my game of Risk tucked under my arm.  Until my abuelo, my grandpa, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Let’s go home.”‘

Figueras uses short chapters to tell Harry’s story, and this structure works well.  We are given a myriad of memories, which are not ordered chronologically, but which help to build a full picture, both of our protagonist and the conditions in which he is living under.

Kamchatka is often profound, particularly in those instances where Figueras discusses our growth as people in the most beautiful and thoughtful ways: ‘Who I have been, who I am, who I will be are all in continual conversation, each influencing the other.  That my past and my present together determine my future sounds like a fundamental truth, but I suspect that my future joins forces with the present to do the same thing to my past.’  Figueras also talks at length about childhood, and the way in which young people view what is around them, and what they are familiar with, as the entire world: ‘When you’re a kid, the world can be bounded in a nutshell.  In geographical terms, a child’s universe is a space that comprises home, school and – possibly – the neighbourhood where your cousins or your grandparents live.  In my case, the universe sat comfortably within a small area of Flores that ran from the junction of Bayoca and Arellaneda (my house), to the Plaza Flores (my school).’

Figueras has a wonderful way of being able to interpret different occurrences, particularly with regard to the political unrest in Argentina, through a child’s eyes: ‘When the coup d’etat came, in 1976, a few days before school started, I knew straight away that things were going to get ugly.  The new president had a peaked cap and a huge moustache; you could tel from his face that he was a bad guy.’  Kamchatka is a rich and thought-provoking novel, which offers an interesting and fully-developed perspective on one of the most defining periods of recent history in Argentina.

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‘Young Anne’ by Dorothy Whipple *****

Young Anne by Persephone favourite Dorothy Whipple is one of the publishing house’s new titles for Spring 2018.  First published in 1927, Young Anne is Whipple’s debut novel, and the final book of hers which Persephone will be printing, bringing as they have done all of her wonderful novels back into print.

Young Anne, which includes a lovely preface by Lucy Mangan, is a ‘quasi-9781910263174autobiographical novel about a young girl’s journey to womanhood.’  Mangan addresses the double-edged sword which comes with the publication of the final Whipple novel; whilst thrilled that all of her fiction is now readily available for scores of new fans to discover, she writes that ‘to be reaching the end of her work entire feels positively injurious to health.’  Mangan explores the ways in which protagonist Anne’s life echoes that of Whipple’s, and the way in which, even as a debut novel, this has many of the qualities which can be found and admired in her later work: ‘… naturally her unmistakeable voice is already there.’  She goes on to write: ‘Whipple, from the off, keeps her ego and her insecurities in check.  As in all her later, more experienced works, she is not a showman but a patient, disciplined archaeologist at a dig, gently but ceaselessly sweeping away layers of human conventionality and self-deception, and on down to deeper pretences to get at the stubborn, jagged, enduring truths about us all beneath.’

In Young Anne, Anne Pritchard, the youngest of three children and the only girl, is first introduced when she is a small child.  Whipple’s description of her feels fresh and perceptive, and one is immediately captivated: ‘Anne at five was indescribably endearing.  A small, sweet, wild-rose thing.  Her hair came diffidently out in tendrils of gold, curling outwards and inwards, this way and that, trying to make a softer thing of the stern sailor cap that proclaimed itself “Indomitable” above her childish brow.  Her folded mouth had, for the moment, the gravity of the very young.’  At this point in time, Anne is scolded rather regularly for small misdemeanours, such as for her ‘favourite occupation’ of sinking her teeth into the wood of the pews at church.  Her only confidant comes in the form of the Pritchards’ housekeeper, Emily, whose tasks are many; they consist of ‘running the house, of keeping Gerald in his place, Anne out of scrapes, Philip from overeating, of coping with her mistress’s indifference, her master’s indigestion and his righteousness.’

From the outset, Anne feels so realistic, filled as she is with childish whims and ideas.  Whipple pays so much attention to her sense of humour and imagination, which are always getting her into trouble with her father.  In one memorable instance, Whipple recounts something which leads young Anne into disgrace: ‘Henry Pritchard was outraged.  He was dumbfounded.  The impertinence of the child to come in and laugh at his singing!  To laugh at him!’  Anne’s response to this is as follows: ‘She knew what fathers were, and God and Henry Pritchard had much in common.  They were everywhere at once, and all-powerful.’  The other characters portrayed in Anne’s world are, even when secondary figures, described with such vivacity and depth.  Of Mildred, a spoilt playmate of Anne’s, Whipple writes that ‘she was a very correct young person.  She even ate jelly with a fork at tea.’  Anne’s formidable Aunt Orchard is described as follows: she ‘did not hold for higher education for women, but she liked to destroy people’s pet hopes, or at least scratch them a little in passing.’

Whipple’s writing, as ever, is gloriously detailed.  When, early in the book, Anne leaves home early in the morning to catch a silver fish at the local park, the following is described: ‘No one about.  She had the world to herself, and the pink-and-white hawthorn blossom was thick on the trees and the laburnum dangled tassels of gold.  Here was quiet pool under a tree.  Just the place where a silver fish might be!  She lay down on the grass and peered into the water.  The ends of her hair slid into the pool, her breath ruffled its surface.  What a strange was there under the water, green moss, spread in waving patterns, silver bubbles coming up from nowhere, and under the roots of the tree, dim caves…’.

Time passes rather quickly in Young Anne; our protagonist skips from young child to teen, and then to young adult, at the beginning of successive chapters.  She is soon sent to a convent school, which allows her some semblance of freedom.  After her first day, as she is walking home, ‘she had an exciting sense of having started a new life away from the paternal eye at last.’  The advent of the First World War then ensues, and both of Anne’s brothers are sent to the Front.  When she goes to the local station near their Lancashire home to say goodbye, Whipple observes: ‘Anne waved them away, her difficult control terribly shaken by the wet faces of the women round her; mothers, sisters, sweethearts, who, like animals, would have hidden themselves when they were hurt, but were compelled to stand out on the crude, cruel railway station and expose their inmost souls.’

Young Anne is an accomplished debut, and as Mangan points out, Whipple’s wonderful writing and ‘unmistakeable voice’ are already prominent throughout.  Young Anne is a heartfelt, searching, and introspective character study.  Anne comes up against many hurdles in her life, and Whipple seems concerned, above all, with how she deals with, or overcomes, them.  As all of Whipple’s later novels can contest, Young Anne is poignant and thoughtful, shrewd and intelligent.  I became absorbed within the story immediately, and found the character arc which Whipple has so deftly crafted eminently believable.  The human condition is centre stage here, and rightly so; Whipple has much to say about the difficulties of growing up, and so much compassion for its consequences.

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‘Eight Months on Ghazzah Street’ by Hilary Mantel ****

I read one of Hilary Mantel’s earliest works, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, as part of my Around the World in 80 Books challenge. I love how varied her books are; rather than deal with a historical setting here, as she does in the much-lauded Wolf Hall and A Place of Greater Safety, this is a contemporary story of Saudi Arabia. Whilst it has not been favourably reviewed on the whole on Goodreads, Time Out calls it ‘A Middle Eastern Turn of the Screw with an insidious power to grip’, and Literary Review heralds it a ‘stunning Orwellian nightmare’. 9780007172917

The novel feels rather autobiographical, in that Mantel herself lived in Saudi Arabia, and Africa before that, as her protagonists here do. Mantel is most involved with the story of Frances here, a British woman who has moved to the country with her husband Andrew, who has found work on a large and well-paid project as an architect.

Well written, as Mantel’s work always is, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is culturally fascinating. It gives one a feeling for the city of Jeddah, where Frances and Andrew settle, immediately, as well as Frances’ position within it. Her life soon feels very claustrophobic, largely unable, as she is, to leave the block of flats in which the couple live; this is due to the incredibly subservient position of women in the male-dominated society, which leaves her – a trained cartographer – unable to work, as well as the stifling heat which grips the city for most of the year. Frances has been made almost a prisoner in her own home, and has to rely on the friendship of the other women in the building to wile away those long, hot hours in which Andrew is working.

On her first morning in Jeddah, after an exhausting journey the previous day, Frances is accidentally trapped within the flat: ‘When Andrew locked me in, I thought, it doesn’t matter, because I won’t be going out today. As if not going out would be unusual. I didn’t know that on that first day I was setting into a pattern, a routine, drifting around the flat alone, maybe reading for a bit, doing this and that, and daydreaming. I can see now that it will need a great effort not to let my whole life fall into this pattern.’ She writes later that the regime in Saudi Arabia, which so suppresses females, ‘is like being under house arrest. Or a banned person.’

Incredibly enlightening, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is told from two perspectives – that of the omniscient third person, as well as Frances’ diary entries. A lot of people have mentioned in their reviews that barely anything happens within the novel, but I think that this works well; there is a mystery at its heart, but this is very much a secondary storyline. Rather, Mantel is more concerned with demonstrating what life is like in Saudi Arabia for a woman, and a European one at that. I found the novel engaging and engrossing, and felt that it is just as valid now as it was when it was published thirty years ago. Very little seems to have changed, in fact. Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is a tense and chilling novel, despite the fact that one can feel the claustrophobic, searing heat of Jeddah throughout.

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‘Ways of Going Home’ by Alejandro Zambra ****

Alejandro Zambra’s novella, Ways of Going Home, which was first published in 2011, was chosen for the stop in Chile on my Around the World in 80 Books challenge.  I had originally decided that the novella would be the last stop on my reading journey, but I was so intrigued that I just had to pick it up earlier.  This particular winner of the English Pen Award is set in Pinochet’s Chile, circling around districts of the capital city, Santiago.  This particular edition has been translated from its original Spanish by Megan McDowell.

9781847086273Every single review which I had seen of Ways of Going Home prior to reading it myself was highly positive.  Nicole Krauss notes that ‘Zambra’s novels are like a phone call in the middle of the night from an old friend, and afterward, I missed the charming and funny voice on the other end, with its strange and beautiful stories.’  Edwige Danticat proclaims: ‘I envy Alejandro the obvious sophistication and exquisite beauty of the pages you are about to read, a work which is filled with the heartfelt vulnerability of testimony.’  The Observer calls it ‘Complex yet sophisticated…  Zambra [weaves] some of the continent’s most difficult historical themes into an exciting modern art form.’

The blurb on the Granta edition is beguiling in its sparsity: ‘A young boy plays hide-and-seek in the suburbs of Santiago, unaware that his neighbours are becoming entangled in the brutality of Pinochet’s regime.  Then, one night a mysterious girl appears in his neighbourhood and makes a life-changing request.’  Claudia, this ‘mysterious girl’, meets the narrator on the 3rd of March 1985, the night of an earthquake in Santiago.  Of their ensuing relationship, which is more of an infatuation than a friendship, the narrator tells us: ‘She was twelve and I was nine, so our friendship was impossible.  But we were friends, or something like it.  We talked a lot.  Sometimes I think I’m writing this book just to remember those conversations.’

Ways of Going Home uses a structure of very short, and often quite poignant, vignettes.  These are made up at first of retrospective memories and memorials from the narrator’s childhood, and then from his adulthood.  This structure works wonderfully; I often find that books made up of vignettes build a wonderful story, allowing us to learn about the characters, as well as the conditions under which they live, piece by piece.  Zambra’s writing style is gripping from the very first page; it begins in the following manner: ‘Once, I got lost.  I was six or seven.  I got distracted, and all of a sudden I couldn’t see my parents anymore.  I was scared, but I immediately found the way home and got there before they did.  They kept looking for me, desperate, but I thought they were lost.  That I knew how to get home and they didn’t.’

The undercurrents of politics are interpreted by the child narrator in very thoughtful ways. The angle from which the perspective has been shaped is fascinating, and adds so much depth to the whole.  Zambra shows rather than tells, demonstrating that though young, his child narrator knows that horrendous things are happening to people he knows due to the regime.  He cannot quite fathom why, however and, quite like Scout in Harper Lee’s wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird, he devotes a lot of thought to the hatred present around him, and whether any justified reasoning can possibly explain its existence.  Of his young life in Santiago, for instance, the present-day narrator writes: ‘Now I don’t understand that freedom we enjoyed.  We lived under a dictatorship; people talked about crimes and attacks, martial law and curfew, but even so, nothing kept me from spending all day wandering far from home.’  He goes on to say, rather poignantly, ‘While the adults killed or were killed, we drew pictures in a corner.  While the country was falling to pieces, we were learning to talk, to walk, to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes.’

Zambra has been selected as one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists for a reason.  Ways of Going Home drips with beauty, and vocalises the impact of violence in such a harrowing and memorable manner.  It is beautiful; it is striking; it is profound.  It is my first taste of Zambra’s work, but I am certain that it will not be the last.

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‘Mrs Hemingway’ by Naomi Wood ****

I chose to purchase Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway to contribute to my Around the World in 80 Books challenge, which I am currently working through.  Although the novel is set in several locations – the Sunday Express mentions in its review that it zips ‘from jazz-age Paris to post-war Cuba via 1930s Florida’ – I chose to include it for Cuba, where Ernest Hemingway lived for some years.9781447226888

Whilst I tend to be quite sceptical about fictionalised books about real-life figures, particularly the famous and infamous, I was really looking forward to immersing myself within Mrs Hemingway.  It has been very favourably reviewed, and was also the winner of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize in 2014, as well as being shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in the same year.  Mrs Hemingway tells of four very different women, forced to be strong in their own ways; indeed, the blurb mentions that ‘over the ensuing decades, as each marriage is ignited by passion and deceit, four extraordinary women will learn what it means to love – and lose – the most famous writer of his generation.’  Mrs Hemingway is told entirely using the third person perspective, and follows each wife in turn – Hadley, Fife, Martha, and Mary – in separate sections.  This structure, as well as the non-linear fragments within each, work well.

The novel begins in 1926, when Ernest and his wife Hadley are living in France, with their small son, Bumby.  At this point, Ernest is already conducting an affair with Hadley’s best friend, Fife.  The novel immerses the reader immediately in the non-conformist relationship which the three have, and hints at the danger which it will bring: ‘Everything is now done a trois.  Breakfast, then swimming; lunch, then bridge; dinner, then drinks in the evenings.  There are always three breakfast trays, three wet bathing suits, three sets of cards left folded on the table when the game, abruptly and without explanation, ends.  Hadley and Ernest are accompanied wherever they go by a third.  This woman slips between them as easily as a blade.  This is Fife; this is her husband’s lover.’

When each protagonist is introduced, the reader sees them as wholly developed; there are different intricacies to each character, and their real-life personalities have clearly been researched extensively.  There is no sense of overdramatisation, or of exaggeration, as far as I could tell.  Each characterisation is perceptive and thoughtful, and Wood is entirely sympathetic and understanding to the women’s plight.  Mrs Hemingway is an immersive and easy to read novel, but it still smacks of intelligence.

The scenes throughout Mrs Hemingway are set beautifully and effectively, and I found the novel engaging from the very beginning.  Wood has made great use of the fascinating period and story which Ernest Hemingway’s real life, and many affairs, gives.  He comes across as the unscrupulous fellow that he was at times, but glimpses are given which demonstrate things which he did to make himself so popular with womankind.  ‘How easily he attracts women,’ Wood writes.  ‘How they come in droves, unwelcome as moths.’

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The Book Trail: April Edition

I begin this particular Book Trail with a novel which I loved, but many people have seemingly been indifferent to, or have hated.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list.

1. True Things About Me by Deborah Kay Davies 9809077
One ordinary afternoon in a nameless town, a nameless young woman is at work in a benefits office. Ten minutes later, she is in an underground parking lot, slammed up against a wall, having sex with a stranger.  What made her do this? How can she forget him? These are questions the young woman asks herself as she charts her deepening erotic obsession with painful, sometimes hilarious precision. With the crazy logic and hallucinatory clarity of an exhilarating, terrifying dream, told in chapters as short and surprising as snapshots, True Things About Me hurtles through the terrain of sexual obsession and asks what it is to know oneself and to test the limits of one’s desires.

 

2. Down from Cascom Mountain: A Novel by Ann Joslin Williams
Ann Joslin Williams grew up observing the craft of writing: her father, Thomas Williams, was a National Book Award-winning novelist. Many of his stories were set in the fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire, and on nearby Cascom Mountain, locations that closely mirrored the landscape of the Williamses’ real hometown. With Down from Cascom Mountain, Ann Joslin Williams proves herself a formidably talented novelist in her own right, while paying tribute to her father by setting her debut novel in the same fictional world-the New Hampshire he imagined and that she has always known.  In Down from Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships-with Callie and Tobin, teenagers on the mountain club’s crew, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and unknowable, and loves lost and found.

 

110762353. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
That rare coming-of-age story able to blend the dark with the uplifting, Irma Voth follows a young Mennonite woman, vulnerable yet wise beyond her years, who carries a terrible family secret with her on a remarkable journey to survival and redemption.  Nineteen-year-old Irma lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico. She has already been cast out of her family for marrying a young Mexican ne’er-do-well she barely knows, although she remains close to her rebellious younger sister and yearns for the lost intimacy with her mother. With a husband who proves elusive and often absent, a punishing father, and a faith in God damaged beyond repair, Irma appears trapped in an untenable and desperate situation. When a celebrated Mexican filmmaker and his crew arrive from Mexico City to make a movie about the insular community in which she was raised, Irma is immediately drawn to the outsiders and is soon hired as a translator on the set. But her father, intractable and domineering, is determined to destroy the film and get rid of the interlopers. His action sets Irma on an irrevocable path toward something that feels like freedom.  A novel of great humanity, written with dry wit, edgy humor, and emotional poignancy, Irma Voth is the powerful story of a young woman’s quest to discover all that she may become in the unexpectedly rich and confounding world that lies beyond the stifling, observant community she knows.

 

4. Curiosity by Joan Thomas
More than 40 years before the publication of The Origin of Species, 12-year-old Mary Anning, a cabinet-maker’s daughter, found the first intact skeleton of a prehistoric dolphin-like creature, and spent a year chipping it from the soft cliffs near Lyme Regis. This was only the first of many important discoveries made by this incredible woman, perhaps the most important paleontologist of her day.  Henry de la Beche was the son of a gentry family, owners of a slave-worked estate in Jamaica where he spent his childhood. As an adolescent back in England, he ran away from military college, and soon found himself living with his elegant, cynical mother in Lyme Regis, where he pursued his passion for drawing and painting the landscapes and fossils of the area. One morning on an expedition to see an extraordinary discovery — a giant fossil — he meets a young woman unlike anyone he has ever met…

 

5. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay 9970166
In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.  Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life.  This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valleycrosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.

 

6. Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart
Told through delicate and masterful narration, Jane Urquhart’s new novel, Sanctuary Line, seamlessly weaves together fragments of present day farm life on the shores of Lake Erie with harrowing snapshots of deep family turmoil marred by stains of death and regret.

 

11605867. Galveston by Paul Quarrington
From one of Canada’s beloved fiction writers comes a tale of love and loss, guilt and forgiveness — and finding redemption in the eye of a hurricane.  Few people seek out the tiny Caribbean island of Dampier Cay. Visitors usually wash up there by accident, rather than by design. But this weekend, three people will fly to the island deliberately. They are not coming for a tan or fun in the sun. They are coming because Dampier Cay is where it is, and they have reason to believe that they might encounter something there that most people take great measures to avoid – a hurricane.  A lottery windfall and a few hours of selfishness have robbed Caldwell of all that was precious to him, while Beverly, haunted by tragedy and screwed by fate since birth, has given up on life. Also on the flight is Jimmy Newton, a professional storm chaser and videographer who will do anything for the perfect shot. Waiting for them at Dampier is the manager of the Water’s Edge Hotel, “Bonefish” Maywell Hope, who arrived at Dampier by the purest accident of all — the accident of birth. A descendent of the pirates who sailed the Caribbean hundreds of years ago, Hope believes if he works hard enough, he can prevent the inevitable. Until, that is, the seas begin to rise…

 

8. Open by Lisa Moore
Lisa Moore’s Open makes you believe three things unequivocally: that St. John’s is the centre of the universe, that these stories are about absolutely everything, that the only certainty in life comes from the accumulation of moments which refuse to be contained. Love, mistakes, loss — the fear of all of these, the joy of all of these. The interconnectedness of a bus ride in Nepal and a wedding on the shore of Quidi Vidi Lake; of the tension between a husband and wife when their infant cries before dawn (who will go to him?) and the husband’s memory of an early, piercing love affair; of two friends, one who suffers early in life and the other midway through.  In Open Lisa Moore splices moments and images together so adroitly, so vividly, you’ll swear you’ve lived them yourself. That there is a writer like Lisa Moore threading a live wire through everything she sees, showing it to us, warming us with it. These stories are a gathering in. An offering. They ache and bristle. They are shared riches. Open.

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which have piqued your interest?