Friday, August 17, 2007

a tale of two cities

Consolation struck me as a very traditional novel. Michael Redhill presents us with a handful of characters and lets them unroll their story for us - and when modern novels try hard to be different this old-style storytelling comes as a treat. Although at times, particularly toward the last third, the telling can feel a little long-winded.

Set in Toronto, the narrative is split equally between Jem Hallam in 1855 and David Hollis in 1997. Both are men struggling to make way through life. To stand out, achieve reputation, to make their families proud. One lives in a city just emerging, forging its place on the surface of a developing world. The other in a city re-developing, currently building a new sports arena on top of a landfill.

Redhill does not scrimp on detail - each era is alive with its own sounds and flavours.

‘Then he turned his camera to the ground and stared at horrors. Tatterdemalion children worn out from eating hard bread; mad forms against lampposts, stinking of spirits and harbouring rumours.’

Throughout my reading I felt that the earlier era seemed more alive than the later. I wonder if this is because much of it is viewed through the framing eye of Hallams camera, in the same way that modern films seem to glow with a colour and vivacity often brighter than real life?

History raises is woolly head on nearly every page as we dip between past and present. The reader must take care not to become dizzy, at times it is tempting to linger in the old days, which seem tinted with greater hope than our own.

‘A century ago, there was no past to abandon. Maybe that was better. Those citizens had only wanted to live, among their people, in places they had build for themselves.’

Consolation is well crafted, well told novel of relationships of people to their pasts and each other. It is a novel of how people and places are made and eventually unmade, a novel about living and dying within ones own time.

‘Marianne has always thought that in earlier times people took death in stride, that they weren’t as attached to each other as people were in her own. It was to be expected that, in the rude unfinished world, people would be lost.’

One morning while I read this book I watched a snail eat a peanut outside my door. The two went well together. Each, like archaeology (another theme of the novel) repay patience with a slow but sure build of pleasure and satisfaction.

2 comments:

dandelion said...

I'm liking the sound of this one I think... Thank you for being that rare thing - an eloquent and accessible reviewer of books!...x

John said...

Just reviewed this one myself and I think I'm singing from pretty much the same hymn sheet as you. Beautifully written in places, with considerable intelligence, but definitely came to drag a bit by the end.