This is the fourth novel by Jane Urquart that I have read, and once again I am impressed with her beautiful evocotive prose. I was drawn in immediately to the Canadian landscape in particular as well as into the lives of the people who inhabit it.
Sylvia is a middle aged woman, married to a country doctor and living in the house she grew up in. She has what is referred to by everyone as a “condition” although what it is, is never specified, she cannot stand to be touched, she seems to see the world differently to other people. Her husband Malcolm understands her, he accepted the limits the condition placed upon their marriage. Yet years earlier Sylvia had met and fell in love with Andrew. They parted and then came together again, before Andrew’s own illness parted them forever. Andrew’s body is found frozen in the ice along the shore of a small island near Lake Ontario by a young artist Jerome. When Sylvia reads of this in the paper she feels compelled to visit the city where Jerome lives and talk to the man who found her lover. She takes with her Andrew’s note books that tell another story, the story of Andrew’s family on Timber Island. Starting with his great grandfather Joseph Woodman who started a business selling the timber that surrounded them.
The story of Sylvia and Jerome is told in two parts, with the story related by Andrew in his note books narrated in between them. This second story which is mainly about Andrew’s grandfather Branwell and his sister Annabelle is just as engaging and beautifully written as Sylvia’s story, however it did interrupt the flow of the main narrative for me to begin with. The prose is beautiful, rich with the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian landscape and the history of the region.
This is an enormously readable novel, engaging and very well written it explores poigantly love, loss and memory and how the past so often can reach out and touch us in the present.