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Rather lovely in many ways,
This review is from: Consolation (Hardcover)Consolation is a rather lovely book in many ways.
The novel intersperses two narratives - the death of David Hollis, a modern day historian in Toronto and the efforts made by his family to pick up the pieces; and the fortunes of Jem Hallam, an apothecary settling in Toronto in the 1850s and his soon to be companions, Sam Ennis, a photographer, and Claudia, a woman driven to hardship by the disappearance of her husband..
Of the two stories, the historical take is the most engrossing. It brings echoes of Kate Grenville's Secret River, showing life on the edge as a new nation starts to build infrastructure and establish itself. But unlike Grenville, Redhill concentrates on those settlers who did not have quite such a successful time. There are no future millionaires here. Redhill's pioneers have to make compromise after compromise as they balance the merits of having dignity or food. But with time, Hallam strts to just about keep his head above water with a photographic business and he and his companions seek to photograph Toronto for historical purposes
The present day narrative hinges on David's belief that a ship carrying glass photographic plates of the early Toronto sank in a lake which was landfilled, and is currently being excavated to build a new stadium. It seems that David's belief made him the subject of some ridicule in his final years of ill health. Marianne, his widow, is keeping vigil on the site, waiting to see whether David will be vindicated. Meanwhile, Marianne's daughter Brigit and Brigit's fiancé John play out various dramas that arise from their own relationships with David and Marianne.
The detailing in both narratives is superb, the characterization deep and complex, and the language flows with beauty and clarity. The interaction between the two narratives works well in the main, with the links being obvious from the outset and, therefore, not in need of the final moment of denouement. This is positive, because it gives the space for each story to develop as it will - there is nothing that feels forced about it.
But this makes it all the more frustrating to have, near the end, the veracity of the historical narrative called into question. Without giving too much away, the handling of this whole aspect of the novel is clumsy and unnecessary. If we needed a cloak of mystery then this could have been achieved without risking the tarnishing of the better part of the novel. This, for me, is enough to drop the novel into the "very good" category when, until the final section, it could have been up in the all-time greats. Nevertheless, there is enough in the novel to justify a Booker shortlisting if the judges felt so inclined.