SANCTUARY LINE by Jane Urquhart

Book Quote:

“Thrown off course by a sudden shift of the wind, a butterfly will never reach its intended destination. It will die in flight, without mating, and the exquisite possibilities it carries in its cells and in the thrall of its migration will simply never come to pass.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate В (OCT 4, 2010)

Consider memory.В At any time, a person’s mind potentially holds the sum total of all her experience, though she may not be able to access all of it. She may have forgotten details, until reminded by revisiting a place or picking up a keepsake. There may be memories too hurtful to recall, until the recounting of simpler things clears a pathway to them. There may be things that she cannot understand until the light of maturity suddenly reveals their meaning. Unlike a tale told chronologically, a novel based on memory contains its entire story in outline from the first pages on — although it remains unclear in detail, emotion, and significance until we have lived long enough in the narrator’s mind to explore her past from within. And Jane Urquhart, in the gradual unspooling of memory that is the essence of her latest novel, allows us to inhabit the mind of Liz Crane, her protagonist and narrator, as though it were our own. This is a novel about memory, nostalgic, partial, sometimes painful, but always intriguing.

Liz is an entomologist, working at a sanctuary situated on a promontory of the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. She studies the Monarch butterfly, which migrates annually from Canada to Mexico and back again, the task being spread between several generations, dying so that others may live. Urquhart makes this a metaphor for the theme of human migration over successive generations that threads through this book. As a child, Liz would spend her summers at her uncle’s orchard farm, worked each year by families flown in from Mexico, whose children she would get to know. Her own family, the Butlers, emigrated from Ireland a century before, settling on both the American and Canadian sides of the lake; the novel is full of their stories of risk-taking and loss. Her uncle himself was given to unexplained disappearances, and one year he simply walked out of their lives for good. More recently, her cousin Mandy, a senior officer in the Canadian army, spent several years in Afghanistan, dying there shortly before the book opens. There are other deaths also that will emerge as the memories come into focus, but there is also life, love, and friendship, and golden echoes of those endless summer evenings of childhood in the country.

The three novels by Jane Urquhart that precede this — Away (1993), The Stone Carvers (2001), and A Map of Glass (2005) — have all been panoramic stories told chronologically. Sanctuary Line is different in being intimate, personal, and reflective, the same events coming back again and again, growing in meaning with each telling. Urquhart has always been a poet, even in her prose, and this book has the structure of poetry itself — a quality that is found also in Changing Heaven (1990), though its atmosphere is altogether wilder than the relative quietness here. Poetry, which was Mandy’s passion, actually plays a large part in it, with well-placed quotations from Robert Louis Stevenson (whose greatness I cannot see) and Emily Dickinson (whom Urquhart makes me appreciate as never before). This is distinctly an older person’s vision. Its prevailing poetic moods are pastoral and elegy: Urquhart’s love of the country and her lament for its disappearance. In this, she echoes the
message from her earlier novels, especially A Map of Glass. All her books draw strength from their local roots.

It seems that she very much needs those roots. When Mandy goes to Afghanistan, she is in an utterly different environment that Urquhart does not entirely manage to connect to her own; she is absent from this world, but never convincingly present in that one. This matters most in the final section, when Urquhart attempts to close the circle and does not quite succeed. Which is a pity since this epilogue is intended to balance the opening book-end, showing Mandy’s hearse being driven along Canadian highways as policemen, firemen, and members of the public gather on overpasses. It is a hero’s return, a poignant image of loss and homecoming, the themes of this entire book. But the most hopeful symbol is that of the Monarchs, flying to and fro between Mexico and Canada, and converting the trees on which they land into tongues of living flame.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: MacAdam/Cage Publishers (October 4, 2010)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Jane Urquhart
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Changing Heaven


October 4, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , , ,  В· Posted in: Canada, Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, Theme driven, y Award Winning Author

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