I’m always happy to pick up a new book by a Canadian author, and I have two to share with you today (although only one of them is set in Canada!) One totally won me over, the other one, not so much. But let tell you all about them!
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When Jane Standen was 15, she was babysitting a little girl, Lily, who went missing and was never found. In The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter* it is twenty years later, and Jane is still haunted by the Lily’s memory. She works as an archivist at a museum that is about to close, and in her spare time researches another missing person–a woman who disappeared 100 years earlier in the same woods as Lily. As Jane tries to unravel the mystery, it turns out that many more people were involved.
There’s a definite atmosphere to The World Before Us, and Hunter’s writing feels quite thoughtful. However, it also had a hard time keeping me engaged, and the slightly ethereal presence of those following Jane added an unexpected twist I didn’t entirely enjoy to the novel. The setting is really authentic, and Jane feels genuine and real, but at times the book is too ambitious and the resulting story drags along. Even when there are resolutions, the book never seems quite complete, and I think I would have preferred it without the ghostly voices and with a faster pace. However if you are looking for an atmospheric book from a Canadian author, it may be worth considering The World Before Us.
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Everyone who lives on the remote fishing island of Sweetland in Newfoundland has agreed to resettle thanks to a generous government compensation package–everyone except for Moses Sweetland. Sweetland by Michael Crummey* tells the story of what happens when Moses refuses to leave. Moses has his reasons, his memories, the history of the island. More importantly, he has his nephew Jesse, who Moses is concerned about because he doesn’t handle change well.
Even though Moses is going against what everyone else on the island desperately wants, I couldn’t help loving him from the beginning of the book. He is a bit of a grumpy old man, but he means well and loves hard. Sweetland is full of history and tragedy and emotion. The fact that Crummey’s novel could easily be a true story of the many abandoned villages once booming industries crash only makes it more powerful.
Sweetland is a multi-layered and multi-generational story brought together by the island and Crummey’s writing, which is quiet but leads to a meditative yet intense novel. It is so easy to get immersed in this story, which is a rich and vivid story of community, hardship and love that feels authentic to the very last word.
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Do you read Canadian fiction? Any favourites lately?