I can always tell when I am reading a Canadian author. Beyond the place names and history, there is a certain way Canadian authors relate to the land in their writing that is a common thread between them. From W.O. Mitchell, to Farley Mowatt, Alice Munro and Margaret Laurence, Canadian authors have featured the Canadian landscape in their books. I think, given the vastness of the Canadian landscape, this may be inevitable for someone who grew up in Canada and chooses to set a novel in Canada.
Elizabeth Hay, with her book Alone in the Classroom, exemplifies that Canadian influence. I would know, by the gentle manner in which she address the landscape, that here is a Canadian author. The phrasing, the story-telling, the tone – all tell me that this is a book of Canada.
The story of course, is universal. Mystery; family history; character study; behavioural examination. Told in the first person, the story unfolds on a murder, but becomes much more about the lives and history of people around the murder. There are many layers, and Hay gently exposes them, without condemnation or critical examination. Rather she says this is who these people really were and what they did – see what you think of it all. It surprised me, where she took some of the characters. I didn’t always like the outcome, but I understood that this was supposed to feel real. And it did, it felt like I was reading an autobiography rather than a novel.
At times I felt like I was following too many threads, although they all related to the main character telling the story. We learn so much of the other characters and through the main character’s eyes. We then must come to our own conclusions about the person she is and becomes, based on her interpretation and interaction with these other characters.
I’m not sure I loved the story itself, but I enjoyed the journey of reading it.