Monday, March 24, 2008

CONSOLATION by Michael Redhill (2007)

I picked up a copy at the airport on my way to France and found myself immersed in the two Toronto worlds created so convincingly by Redhill, whose previous novel MARTIN SLOAN I admired. I was intrigued by the opening epigraph borrowed from Borges that "the man who commits suicide remains in the world of dreams"--a generous and romantic notion, perhaps a comfort to families who are the survivors of suicide.

In one storyline, Jem Hallam is an apothecary from the UK come to set up a business in 1856 Toronto with the notion of bringing his young family across when he's established. Circumstances find him befriending an unusual photographer and one of his models. The three of them become family to each other in the absence of their relatives.

In the contemporary narrative set in 1996, David Hallis has recently completed suicide, unable to continue to live his increasingly dependent and dwindling life due to Lou Gehrig's disease. While he is yet able to walk, albeit unsteadily, he arranges with his daughter's boyfriend to be dropped off at the Toronto Island Ferry at the foot of Yonge Street--his journey across the Styx where he leaps to his death in Lake Ontario.

Redhill adeptly shifts from one narrative to the next moving between Toronto's past and present evoking love, memory and grief all the while.

CONSOLATION won this year's City of Toronto Book Award.

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