By Michael Redhill
Anchor Canada (PB) 2007 Caribou River (HC) 2006
This novel is actually 2 stories in one. Toronto in the present (1997) and Toronto in the past (1856). As most of those who live in Toronto know - the Downtown area - south of Front Street - where the docks and the lake shore currently meet - is mostly filled land. I also happen to live in that area. Just think that 150 years ago, this land did not exist.
The present story involves the Hollis family - David Hollis, his wife Marianne and their two adult daughters - Bridget and Alison. Bridget has been engaged to John Lewis for a number of years. Alison does not feature much in this story.
David is a Forensic Archaeologist. He goes digging in dumps and digs up the ground for signs of humans and therefore the history of that area. He has always done this. Bridget remembers how she used to go on these digs with her father, when she was 3 years old.
The story starts with David Hollis committing suicide. He asked Bridget's fiance John Lewis to drive him to the docks, where he purchased a ticket, hopped on the ferry to the Toronto Island and then jumped overboard. That was chapter one.
The rest of the book was alternating chapters between Jem Hallam, a chemist (apothecary) in Toronto of 1856, and Marianne Hollis in Toronto of 1997, trying to figure out why her husband killed himself. David claimed that there was a strong box filled with photographs - lost on a ship that went down at the docks - before the land was filled in. It would be buried under what is now the Air Canada Centre. In the book it's called the Union Arena. And in 1997 is when construction on the arena/ACC began.
Jem Hallam was from England. In 1856 he left his wife and 2 daughters and moved to
Toronto to start a branch of the Hallam family apothecary business. But he found too
much competition in Toronto, and within a few months he had changed careers and become a supplier of photographic chemicals. And gotten involved with taking photographs as well.
While the early parts of the story in 1997 were rather slow to set the place and background of the novel, the later parts were better, because once Marianne had ensconced herself in the hotel room overlooking the arena construction site, she could see everything going on, and that is when the action really started. All the sections about Jem Hallam in 1856 were excellent as well.
I really enjoyed this book, although it did take me a few days to finish it. It won the 2007 Toronto Book Awards. And in February 2008 (ie - right now) it is the Toronto Public Library's choice for Toronto to read - in the Keep Toronto Reading Program. the TPL is challenging everyone in Toronto read this book for february.
I read this book for the TPL Library, Chunkster and Canadian challenges.
Michael Redhill is an American-born Canadian. His partner is a Frenchwoman and they live in Narbonne in Southern France with their 2 sons. He has 2 blogs as well.
Consolation - The Book
Narbonne - Family - Home