A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson – Audible Book Review
Review by Patrick Viale
Since the publication of her first novel, “Crow Lake”, at the age of 55, Mary Lawson has come to be recognised as one of Canada’s most important writers and has attracted great critical acclaim and an increasing number of devoted readers. Much admired by fellow writer, Anne Tyler, her books are miniature portraits of small town life with characters who strive to break free from their often dysfunctional families and the constraints of the society in which they live and find their own place in the world. Told with incisive subtlety and gentle humour “Crow Lake” went on to win the Books in Canada First Novel Award as well as the McKitterick Prize in 2003.
Set in Northern Ontario, her latest novel, “A Town called Solace”, begins with a mystery. Sixteen year old Rose has disappeared. Her younger sister, Clara, stands by the living room window staring at the road, convinced that if she keeps watching, Rose will return. It is 1972 and Rose stormed out of the house after a row with her mother a week ago. It has happened before but she always returned home after a few hours. Now, as each day passes, fears grow for her safety and Clara, always an anxious child, is determined to keep her vigil until Rose returns.
Her worries increase when she sees a strange man enter the house of their neighbour, Elizabeth Orchard. The elderly lady was in hospital, but she gave Clara a house key, and asked her to feed her cat, Moses, in her absence, a responsibility which Clara takes very seriously.. Now she is distraught to see through the window that this stranger is picking up framed photographs and dumping cardboard boxes of his belongings in Mrs Orchard’s front room. Feeling that her parents are understandably preoccupied with the disappearance of their elder daughter, she decides to spare them further worry and deal with this new situation herself.
What ensues is unexpected as we follow the interlinked lives of young Clara, Mrs Orchard and the stranger, Liam Kane, who, himself, is struggling to understand why this house has been left to him by an old lady he hardly remembers. As the story unfolds we learn that each of the characters harbours secrets about their own life and the lives of others, and it is only when they are able to share these that they can forward. Told in the clear unsentimental voice that we have come to expect from Mary Lawson, this short novel is an engrossing and moving tale told with subtlety and gentle humour.
The audiobook is excellently narrated by Maggie Hukulak, Taija Isen and Ian Lake and is available from audible.co.uk. It lasts 7hrs and 32 mins