December 2021 – A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, NORTHERN ONTARIO

1st December 2021

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, novel set in Northern Ontario.

Novel set in Northern Ontario

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021.

In the Acknowledgements the author says: The town of Solace exists only in my imagination, but the setting is very real: the vast and beautiful area of lakes and rocks and forests known as the Canadian Shield, in Northern Ontario.

This is the first novel I have read by Mary Lawson and categorically it will not be the last. She brings incredible writing, gentle wit and well formed characters to her storytelling.

The year is 1972. Clara is seven years old and her father calls her ‘Little’. I immediately imagine her as Olive from the tragi-comic film, Little Miss Sunshine. Her older sister Rose, a wayward teenager, has left home and the police are investigating her disappearance. It is thought she may have headed to Toronto and every day, Clara holds a vigil at her window, anticipating her return.

Elizabeth, an older woman, lives opposite and Clara is charged with looking after her cat, Moses, whilst Elizabeth is in hospital. She takes her responsibilities very seriously and heads over every day to spend a little time with her feline friend. She is taken aback, however, when a man moves into Elizabeth’s house and clearly has brought possessions with him and is clearly intending to stay. Her parents know more about Rose’s disappearance and why a man has moved in across the road, than they are prepared to share with her. It gradually dawns on her that things are being withheld.

We hear from Elizabeth in her sick bed in hospital, as she reminisces with her long-dead husband, Charles, and gradually we understand why Liam, the man in the house, seems to be living in her dwelling. We learn more about both adults and how their lives overlapped in earlier years.

The writing is elegant and understated, which imbues the narrative with terrific poignancy. It moves through a full gamut of charged, yet gentle emotions. This is a rich and exquisite read.

You may well find this a good “next read” if you have finished Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and are looking for something to fill the gap.

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