31 August 2011

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Thoughts and Reflections
I picked this book up because it is on the CBC's 2011 Canada Reads list, which I am attempting to read through (very gradually). This book presented a number of the classic Canadian themes: loneliness, isolation, a history that haunts the present, etc. So, rightly, it should be on the Canada Reads list. However, I wasn't particularly taken with the novel.

The general atmosphere of the book is one of regret, this idea, a very Canadian idea in my mind, that the history haunts us. Nearly the entire novel revisits the past of this particular family unit. It is a fairly tragic story: the death of parents, financial difficulty, teenage pregnancy, and all the while living in an isolated community in Northern Ontario. Only in the very last pages (literally, the last five pages or so), does the author indicate that the past isn't all that tragic, that the family members each have found their own sense of place and happiness. I found this novel difficult for that reason, that for the entire novel, the reader is regretting some of what happened to the characters, in a sad and "oh, if only" kind of way.  The final five pages, though offering a kind of redemption from disappointment for the characters, was not enough to put a positive spin on the novel, thereby leaving a grim feeling to the novel.

The book discusses the theme of disappointing others. This theme ended up being a key theme, but wasn't actively discussed until the end of the novel. Rather, it was hinted at through the emotions of the narrator. Ultimately, the narrator believes the life of her brother to be a tragedy. She believes that a single slip changed his entire future and prevented him from achieving his true potential. As such, she is unable to see that he leads a happy life, simple though it may be. Furthermore, this regret she has for his life affects her relationship with him. He is a fallen star in her eyes and unable to discuss her own achievements with him for fear of rubbing his face in his mistakes and reminding him of the life he could have had.

The author, from the very first pages, begins hinting at some vague tragic events which would be explained at t a later point in the novel. On the one hand, this developed a sense of curiosity in the reader, spurring the storyline along. However, this method (a double edged sword, as it turns out) also created a sense of predictability to the story. As I read, I continued to hope that the book wouldn't prove to be so predictable. However, it did. Despite a few changes in course, ultimately, the story was fairly predictable. I was not at all surprised when the key events were at last revealed, nor was I surprised at the revelation/redemption at the end of the novel.

The book wove together the story of two families. The story is by one of the characters looking back on the events and weaving in her present life. The reader sees the emotionally precarious and closed state that the narrator is in in the present. This feature sets the mood, a grim realisation that tragedy is going to happen. Furthermore, the constant hints at the pending tragedy and the inevitable crossing paths of these two families contributes to a foreboding mood. I found this theme grim and interesting, however. Whilst reading, I was filled with a sense of dread about what was about to unfold. Yet, this dread is only because the narrator, looking back on these events, knew how they would unfold and knows what lies ahead. In fact, the author very successfully wrote this sense of dread into the book and accurately depicts the feelings of the narrator. In reality, the characters involved never know what is about to happen and don't know that they should be preventing or dreading events. It's a bit of a despairing idea to realise that bad things are just around the corner, but our ignorance to them prevents us from preventing them! However, the closing idea of the novel is that our regrets don't have to stay with us and make us bitter in our present or future, that we can still have happiness and a good life even if things didn't go as we had hopped or planned.

The accuracy of memory is explored in the novel. This wasn't discussed in depth, but a simple reminder that perhaps we don't remember the past perfectly accurately, that we learn things as we experience the events themselves, and that our present emotions regarding the events affects our understanding and memory of them.

All in all, the book was okay. I do feel that the book is quintessentially Canadian Literature, revealing some of the classic themes of CanLit. I did find the book grim and somewhat predictable. However, I did enjoy the closing message of the novel that regrets in our past don't disqualify us from happiness in the future. I did find this positive idea came a bit late in the novel and wasn't strong enough to ease the grim atmosphere.

About the Author
Mary Lawson was born in Blackwell, Ontario in 1946. She was raised in southern Ontario and went on to study Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She then moved to Britain in 1968, where she met and married Richard Lawson. She currently lives in Kingston-upon-Thames with her husband and two children. Crow Lake is Mary Lawson's debut novel and was published in 2002.

Things I Liked about This Novel
1. The scenery. The Canadian north is certainly a beautiful thing, if not kind of isolated and lonely.
2. I enjoyed the closing theme that we don't have to hang onto regrets, that even if things didn't go as planned in our lives, there is still happiness.

1 comment:

lalazo said...