Sanctuary Line Hardcover – 5 Jan 2012
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'The most compelling depiction of the sense of place in human lives' Alice Munro.
'Urquhart's beautiful prose propels this quiet tale of familial love, parental absence and loss. Finally, as Liz's memories sharpen, there is a revelation that forces a complete re-evaluation of the narrative. A thoroughly engaging read' We Love This Book.
'This is a mesmerising, beautiful book ... it is a book to keep and which will be just as good on subsequent readings' Bookbag.
'Powered by the dense symbolism, intense emotion and preoccupation with nature that marks the romantics ... Sanctuary Line is a book lover's novel' Donna Bailey Nurse, Globe and Mail.
'Urquhart has a great gift for the historical novel, for the melding of ideas, events and individuals into a significant whole' Claire Messud.
'Complex and thought-provoking ... Urquhart builds stories like an architect ... and the brilliance of [her] powerful ending is that it makes us want to start again' Emily Donaldson, Toronto Star.
'Urquhart's prose is as smooth and uncluttered as Margaret Atwood's' Lisa Allardice, Observer.
'Like the monarch butterflies at the heart of the story, Jane Urqhuart's novel Sanctuary Line is a delicate work of rare beauty' The Tablet Summer.
From the Inside Flap
Jane Urquhart's stunning new novel weaves elements from the nineteenth century in Ireland and North America into a contemporary story of events in the lives of one family. Recently returned to Lake Erie, Ontario, to study the migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly, entomologist Liz Crane moves into her family's now-deserted farmhouse. Casting a shadow over her life is the recent death of her cousin, Amanda Butler, a gifted military strategist killed in Afghanistan, and the disappearance many years earlier of Amanda's father, an irrepressible chronicler of the Butler family lore and a charismatic authority figure. A storyteller in her own right, Liz explores the intriguing history of the eccentric Butler family, ancestral lighthouse-keepers, agriculturists and dreamers, and re-evaluates the destinies of the seasonal workers who were imported each summer from Mexico to harvest the fruit on the farm, among them Teo, a boy alone in his apartness. Surrounded by memories, Liz is haunted by a deeply buried family secret, by four different, unexpected love affairs, and by the tragic events that ultimately re-shaped all their futures. In an eloquent and powerful narrative, Jane Urquhart brings to vivid life those fragile patterns of the past that make us who we are, and shows the extent to which we can be influenced by absences on the difficult path to understanding and forgiveness.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Much of the story takes place in the nineteen eighties at the Butler family farm on the northern - Canadian - shore of Lake Erie, a landscape that is depicted with detailed and loving attention. Liz, the city girl, is the enthusiastic "summer cousin" immersed in play and exploration, especially with her cousin Mandy. Mandy and her father Stanley, the head of the Butler clan, are often on Liz's mind now in her ruminations about the past. Mandy, the poetry lover turned military officer, was killed on duty in Afghanistan not long ago, and Stan, the life-loving "innovative" farmer, disappeared without a trace one day, twenty years earlier. Reminiscences also take her back to Teo, the Mexican boy, whom she got to know over several summers at the farm. His mother was one of the Mexicans working there each season. They had become close friends, until... "There is no one, no one left. I live in a landscape where absence confronts me daily," she reflects, and later on: "Hardly ever has memory been good for people..."
Multi-generational family sagas, reaching back in time to Irish immigration to North America, are one of Urquhart's familiar themes. In SANCTUARY LINE the primary storyteller is uncle Stan, who captures Liz's attention with his absorbing tales of the family's forbearers, the "Great-greats". His recounting of the past history of the Butlers is revealed in small, apparently disconnected, summer installments. Liz's mind, recalling his stories, is also not linear, wandering in and out of memory snippets. Central to the family characteristics, beginning in Ireland, is "bifurcation": between farmers and lighthouse keepers, and in North America between those settlers on the southern shore and those on the northern side of Lake Erie. Family dramas and politics are alluded to over and over again. Still, Liz keeps wondering how much of Stan's rich lore was based on fact and how much a construction of his creative mind, deliberately invented for the benefit of the children.
Having read most of Urquhart's previous novels and enjoyed her insightful realization of engaging characters and her often lyrical and vivid evocation of the beautiful and diverse landscapes in Southern Ontario, SANCTUARY LINE feels quite familiar in that respect. Yet, for this novel, the author has taken a new, and for me, more intimate approach to story telling. Creating, for the first time, an authentic first person female voice, she allows the reader to feel like an intimate companion to Liz's inner voice. She even appears to invite us to "look out the window" with her into her young girl's persona and life. With the hindsight and distance of a mature person, yet filled with deep emotion and unresolved questions, she brings the past to life for her and our benefit.
By allowing Liz's memories to wander effortlessly - and seemingly randomly - between present and past, yet also subtly linking the two spheres by dropping clues and small hints to future situations, Urquhart, in fact, spins a beautifully crafted delicate, yet sturdy, and increasingly tightly structured story web. It captures scattered shards of Liz's memory, splinters from Stan's imaginative and sometimes wild family stories, and builds on strong connecting threads of love and friendship, loss and happiness. It is up to the reader to carefully assemble the numerous and recurring references to individuals and relationships that will be revisited again and again, revealing a bit more each time until they are eventually explained.
Monarchs appear regularly every summer on the Butler farm and the symbolism of their migratory conduct is evident to Liz, who monitors their behaviour. She understands their genetically imprinted sense of orientation and interconnectedness through several generations that makes them return to their summer breeding grounds. In her ruminations she returns to their image, recalls their presence in the "butterfly tree", admires their strengths as a swarm but also recognizes their fragility when migration patterns are in jeopardy or one butterfly is straying from the predetermined path. The parallels to her understanding of her family and human behaviour in general are evident and very aptly described. Sometimes the connections to the story web seem somewhat arbitrary and tenuous and are in danger of getting lost in the midst of everything else. [Friederike Knabe]
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This was the first Urquhart book I'd read, but I liked it enough that I may try another. The story of the extended Butler family, Irish emigrants three-four generations in, who settled on the northern shore of Lake Erie in southern Ontario, orchardists and farmers. Another branch of the Butlers 'bifurcated' to become lighthouse keepers, but by the time our protagonist, Liz Crane, is telling her story, her own generation of Butler cousins have spread far and wide in various professions, and the old family farm and orchard have been sold off or gone back to woods and fields.
A complex tale which contains multiple love stories, as well as deaths and betrayals, SANCTUARY LINE will, if you stick with it, steal your heart and bring you to tears. It is Liz's story of being an fatherless city girl who spends her summers and holidays at the family farm, where she experiences first love. It is her cousin Mandy's story - how she goes away to military school to become an officer in the Canadian Army, does a tour in Afghanistan, where she falls hopelessly in love, a love that can never work, unfortunately. And it is the story of Mandy's charismatic (and probably bipolar) father, Liz's uncle, and how he charms them all, but ultimately fails them. It is a tale too of generational struggles and family myths and characters - old stories of the "great-greats". And it takes too a jaundiced look at our current war in Afghanistan, noting at one point that "if you look at history, it could be said that one man's terrorist is often another man's freedom fighter." Considering the Soviet-Afghan war and now our own seemingly endless entanglement there, enough said.
But this is a story primarily about memory, which Liz, looking back on her life, sums up well by saying -
"I now believe that memory is rarely a friend to anyone. Always attended by transience and loss, often by anguish, the very notion that the elderly spend their days wrapped in the comfort of pleasant mental journeys into the past is simply absurd ..."
SANCTUARY LINE is a beautifully written book. Urquhart draws on so many literary influences here, with frequent references to many - Dickinson, Sandburg, Keats, Byron, R.L. Stevenson, Neruda, etc. She is obviously well-versed in all of these. In a tragic and anguished look back at the end of childhood, she makes good use of these lines from Stevenson' A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES -
"To house and garden, field and lawn,
The meadow gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Goodbye, goodbye, to everything!"
I'll say it again. Urquhart is an artist and SANCTUARY LINE is a beautiful book. Very highly recommended. (four and a half stars)
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER