By happy coincidence, after I wrote my post last week about solace, I seem to be finding solace everywhere. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in my preferred forms of solace this week. Not that I am complaining. Just exaggerating. Slightly. As I am wont to do. And which you will know if you’ve been reading my blog long enough.
First off, I finally read Mary Lawson’s book A Town Called Solace. I’ve had this book in my Kindle library for a while, but I was so immersed in Sally Spencer mystery novels that I couldn’t drag myself away.
Gad, I was obsessed with the Sally Spencer books for a time. I read them one after the other, insistent on reading them in order so I could follow the ongoing backstories of the main characters. I began with the Monika Paniatowski series, which are the latest books. And once I was up to date, instead of sitting around waiting for Sally Spencer to write a new one… yes, I know it’s really Alan Rustage doing the writing… I started back with the original Charlie Woodend series.
In the early books the main character is DCI Charlie Woodend, a middle-aged, irascible, chain-smoking, plain-spoken northerner, partnered by DI Bob Rutter, who is younger, better educated, and much better dressed. They are not unlike Reginald Hill’s detective duo: wily, rugby-playing, slightly misogynistic Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his patient, clever, and university educated partner DI Peter Pascoe. Although, to my mind, no other mystery series can really compare to Hill’s wonderfully wry and intelligent books.
The later Spencer series has Woodend retiring to Spain and his place as DCI taken by his trusty “bagman” Monika Paniatowski. I love a series with history. And reading the original series, I’m loving finding out about all the events and people that are mentioned in later books. Spencer’s books are not perfect books; the plots often have outlandish endings, but they are good fun. I know I’ve said that in my posts several times this fall. So I apologize for being repetitive.
Once I was able to tear myself away from murder and mayhem, I was utterly delighted to end up in Mary Lawson’s small town named Solace in Northern Ontario. What a wonderful book! A Town Called Solace is vintage Mary Lawson. Then again, I’ve never read a Lawson book that disappointed. I ripped through it. Sadly. Because then it was over.
Lawson’s novel is about love. Love lost and love found again. Painful love, scathingly traumatic love, and nurturing love that brings solace to those who need it. Which is, in fact, everyone in the book. Never was a book, or fictional town more aptly named. The story is about a family whose eldest child has run away from home and whose younger child, seven-year-old Clara is almost catatonic with missing her sister, their elderly neighbour Elizabeth who lives alone and is currently in hospital, and the young-ish man, Liam, who comes to live in Elizabeth’s house. And, of course, Elizabeth’s cat Moses, who young Clara is caring for in Elizabeth’s absence. You have to love a writer who can paint such an evocative picture of a cat.
All three main characters in the novel are narrators: Clara, Elizabeth, and Liam. I love a book that jumps back and forth from one narrator to another. Lawson does this a lot. And so skillfully. The fact that the three narrators are diverse in age only adds to the richness of the book. It is Lawson’s ability to build character that has always stood out for me. Interesting, flawed, utterly believable characters that we come to empathize with and to love despite, and perhaps even because of, their flaws.
All of this is set in tiny Solace. Too small and boring to be of interest to anyone except the people who live there. And who would live no where else, as we find out. Solace is at the end of a long, long drive from Toronto, the last stages on bone-grindingly bad roads, we are told, amidst the forest of the Canadian Shield, on the shores of a big lake. Really it could be Haileybury, or Cobalt, or maybe even Moosonee. But it’s not. Lawson says the town is completely fictional.
Except for the flashbacks to 1940, narrated by Elizabeth, the events unfurl in 1972, at a time of year much like now, when the leaves are falling, the nights are drawing in, and everyone is girding themselves for winter. Especially in a northern town, let alone one as far north as Solace. Despite the fact that Mary Lawson lives in England now, has never lived in northern Ontario, and spent her childhood summers in cottage country in the Muskokas, an area which no self-respecting northerner would call northern, somehow she is able to capture the north. At least the physical setting of the north.
I do wish, though, that she would touch on some of the issues which plague real northern towns. Poverty and unemployment for instance. The astronomical cost of living in towns in the far north. And I wish that her cast of characters included indigenous families. Without these elements, it’s as if she’s taken a southern town and simply transplanted it into a northern setting. Much as I loved this book, and I did love it, I feel she needs a little of David Adams Richards’ grittiness in her work.
If you haven’t read David Adams Richards’ books you should. He is one of my favourite Canadian writers. His books are not set in northern Ontario, but in New Brunswick where I’m from. You can’t beat Adams Richards for gritty realism, lean and elegant writing, and his depiction of a social underclass that has its own values and its own heroes. If you’re new to David Adams Richards start with Mercy Among the Children. Or not. He is a wonderful writer, but his books do not make for… uh… restful reading. Just sayin’.
So, in what other activities have I found solace this week? I went for a lovely walk on Monday with my friend and former colleague Nancy. We walked a trail in Nepean where Nancy’s grandfather once had his farm. I loved hearing Nancy’s stories about the farm and her family. Then we decamped to a new-to-me coffee spot for a delicious latté. We had a lovely afternoon… the walk, the conversation, the coffee… so restorative.
On Tuesday I was not so fortunate. I planned a solitary walk in the sunshine listening to a podcast on my headphones. But I delayed my departure because I spent a jaw-grindingly frustrating two hours trying to fix our printer. When the printer began to spit out paper as it’s supposed to do, I virtually flew out the door. Sadly, by the time I reached the trail, the sky had closed in on me, and at almost the halfway point along the trail it began to rain. Wouldn’t you know it? I was like Macbeth, “stepp’d in so far that… returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Ha.
There was no option but to return as quickly as I could. So I did. I pulled my knit hat (yes… I was wearing my woolly hat) down over my eyebrows and picked up the pace. Eventually I reached the car, wet and miserable, woollen hat dripping, down jacket (sigh) sticking to me, soaked through to the skin, and freezing. Then, ironically, when I arrived home, the sun came back out, illuminating the tops of the clouds, which gazed benignly at themselves reflected in the placid river as though they had not just doused me with rain and snow.
Still. There was tea and my book and the gas fire in the sun room as consolation. So I can’t complain.
And the other consolation was that during my walk, both the frenzied and the non-frenzied parts, I listened to a Slightly Foxed podcast on the writing of Tim Pears, whose books are now on my “to read” list. The podcast, called Tim Pears’s West Country, which you can find here, was so delightful, that I had to re-listen to it again today.
This afternoon I ordered his book, In the Place of Fallen Leaves, from the library. You should check him out if you aren’t already familiar with his work. I know I wasn’t. The descriptions of his novels by the other guests on the podcast, as well as Pears’ own stories of his love for rural Devon made me realize that I should add him to my “works of solace” list. Not to mention the fact that when I signed out his book from the OPL website, the description box written by the OPL experts said that Pears’ books were similar to Mary Lawson’s. Now how is that for serendipity?
This “solace” list is a new idea. I’m going to start a list of things that might provide solace for me. Kind of storing tempting ideas. Like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. Books to read. YouTube channels to watch. Podcasts to try. Walks to go on. Projects to start.
Like my knitting, for instance. When we visited the Briggs and Little Woollen Mill in Harvey this past summer, I bought two beautiful skeins of yarn, in different colours, and a pattern for a simple knitted hat. I plan to make a purple hat and a blue one.
I just need to stop procrastinating and get started.
Now it’s your turn my friends. Have you been engaging in any bibliotherapy this week? Do let us in on any goodies we may be missing.
P.S. The book links in the post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.