Another beautifully observed story set in small-town Canada by Mary Lawson about ordinary lives caught up in tragedy and confusion told in an exceptional understated way.

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Den scores




304 pages

‘Crow Lake’ by the Canadian writer Mary Lawson is in the Den’s Dozen top reads. Her latest book, “A Town of Solace’ is once again set in Northern Ontario in an insular small-town community. The story is told through the eyes of three characters, an octogenarian widow,
a young male divorcé and an 8 year old school girl. ‘Town of Solace’ is a beautifully written story of ordinary people navigating loss and heartbreak but ultimately finding solace.

Eight year old Clara lives with her parents and her outgoing, forthright elder teenage sister Rosie, in the backwater Canadian town of Solace. Their neighbour is Mrs Orchard, in her eighties and alone except for her cat Moses, whom Clara regularly visits and feeds. Clara’s life unexpectedly falls apart when Rosie goes missing, Mrs Orchard ‘goes away’ and a strange man moves into Mrs Orchard’s house. As Clara’s mother slowly crumbles so Clara finds solace in spending more time next door with Moses until she inevitably meets Liam Kane, the quiet, unknown and rather distant young man who has inexplicably taken up residence in her house and immediately received a visit from the town’s only police officer.

When Clara’s parents try to hide the whole story surrounding Rosie and Mrs Orchard from her because they think she won’t understand and it will be too upsetting, she finds an unlikely honesty in Liam who finds it impossible to lie to this lonely and enquiring young girl. Meanwhile we meet Elisabeth Orchard who is nearing the end of her life in hospital. She begins to share ghosts of her past and her connection to this stranger suddenly living in her house.

This may all sound rather tragic but humour and warmth run through the narrative. None more so than Liam tuning into radio stations as he drives to learn what’s happening in the world only to catch the odd headline before losing reception. And the warmth of the locals like Karl the builder who never draws breath and takes Liam under his wing.

If you are fans of Anne Tyler, then Mary Lawson’s books are a definite must. They absorb the remoteness of Ontario’s wilderness and Lawson perfectly captures the vulnerability of a child who finds herself caught up in other people’s emotions and overlooked when tragedy hits her family. You may dream to leave such a small rural town as this but sometimes ‘solace’ is found where you least expect it.

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