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Clara Callan [Mass Market Paperback]

Richard B. Wright
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 8 2004
In the late 30s, sisters Clara and Nora face the future with hope and uncertainty. Told through their diaries and letters, this novel vividly brings them to life in a world struggling through the Depression and the growing threat of fascism in Europe. The author is the winner of Canadian Giller Prize for Fiction.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

A finely detailed depiction of the Depression era, Clara Callan is told entirely in the letters and journal entries of two adult sisters, Clara and Nora Callan, and their older lesbian friend, Evelyn. The novel, Wright's ninth, made a surprising sweep of Canada's major awards for best novel--the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award--in 2001. Wright has the gift of making the reader care deeply about these characters and their worlds, which include small town Ontario, where Clara is a sensitive schoolteacher, and New York City, where the younger Nora has moved to become a radio soap opera star. Since both sisters are still "on the shelf," their roller-coaster love lives--Nora's in worldly Manhattan and Clara's in the more restrictive atmosphere of small-town spinsterhood--are a primary subject of their letters and Clara's journal.

This is a quiet book, studied and well researched, but thoroughly engaging and readable. Numerous references to period music, political events, and the looming war quite successfully place the reader at both the centre and the periphery of life in the 1930s. Side trips to Italy and to view the Dionne quintuplets feel entirely authentic. With deceptive simplicity, the author creates a world of clear images: "Nora came in from her shuffleboard game with a sweater tied across her shoulders, her hair damp from the rain." Most importantly, Wright has realized characters that come alive on the page--quite a feat considering the self-imposed limitations of this novel's form. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Canadian author Wright (The Age of Longing) has published eight novels, but remains unknown to most readers in the States. His most recent offering, which won Canada's 2001 Governor General's Award and the Giller Prize, could change that. The story's conceit is simple enough: Clara Callan is a single "schoolteacher who likes to write poetry," left to fend for herself in the tiny town of Whitfield, Ontario, after her father dies and her sister, Nora, takes off for New York City. The novel is made up of a series of letters and journal entries written between 1934 and 1939. During that time, Nora becomes a radio soap opera star, while Clara loses her faith in God, is raped by a vagrant, has an abortion, engages in an affair with a married man named Frank and finally gives birth to a daughter. Nora and the lesbian writer of her soap opera, Evelyn Dowling, are Clara's main correspondents, but the news she relates in her letters (such as "grippe and calloused hands"-although she also shows concern for the world's more serious injustices) contrasts with the darker events recorded in her journal entries. Wright has accomplished an amazing feat by allowing his characters to emerge, fully formed and true, without authorial intrusion into their intimate psychological world, revitalizing the epistolary form in the process. This novel will remind some readers of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, herself an avid correspondent, and of the way in which the elegant surfaces of her letters sometimes cracked open to reveal demons lurking below.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous! Sept. 24 2007
Format:Hardcover
It would be superflous to simply praise this book, after all it is one of the rare if not the only book to have won the two most prestigious CanLit awards, the Governer General's and the (Sociabank) Giller award. Clara Callan is an undulating work of literary excellence. This is a must read book.

The story is set before the second world war in a small town in Ontario, where Clara Callan, a solitary thirty something school teacher, ponders the meaning of life, love and happiness while floating in the banal everyday existence that a small town has to offer. But no life is ever ordinary and the journey Clara takes in the years leading to the second world war are filled with both happiness and sorrow but most of all discovery. No man is an island and certainly not Miss Callan whose correspondance with her sister Nora, a sprity creature who runs off New York to be a radio star, and the ever sharp witted Evelyn, alongside Clara's diary, forms the basis of the novel.

The true charm of the novel is not its plot twists and deft storytelling but the humanity with which the characters are rendered for both their beauty and warts, and the recognition that even the most seemingly mundane and ordinary life is a tale worth telling.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I was extremely intrigued by the title when I first noticed this book on the shelves of my favorite bookstore. I immediately wanted to know who was Clara Callan. I was not disappointed in Richard B. Wright's latest novel. Written in diary and letter form this is the romantic and sometimes tragic story of two Canadian sisters, one, an ordinary school teacher, the other, an aspiring actress. The writer leads us into their thoughts and through their actions and the repercussions they face as he develops his characters through the 1930's, retelling a bit of our history. Highly recommended. You won't be disappointed. I look forward to his next book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is a story that seems very real. As it's written in letter and diary form, I felt privy to special information and it was easy for my imagination to read deeper between the lines.

Given that it's written from Clara's point of view via her correspondence and diary, I was able to surmise and imagine much more than was being revealed by Clara.

All elements of the book are deeply believable. So much that I wonder: is the book based on actual (very well) written text from maybe an old aunt, or is it wonderful that the author, a man, is able to convey the simple honesty of three brilliant women in the 30s exactly from their point of view, untainted by modern beliefs or gender separation.

The fact that it includes key historic elements, mentioned as a backdrop for daily events from the point of view of the characters, makes the book extra special.

I read it two years ago, and I'm re-rediscovering it now. It's also the kind of book that can be read again every few years or so, and the story remains fresh.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unremarkable life? Nov. 29 2002
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Clara Callan, the protagonist of Wright's novel, is a small town spinster in the 1930s. She lives a reasonably comfortable life thanks to the inheritance of her father's house and a job as a local schoolteacher. Through her diary entries and exchanges of letters, mainly with her more glamorous younger sister Nora, Clara reveals herself to the reader. Wright has created a believable character that "grows on you" as her personality emerges little by little. Life's difficulties during the Depression years, in particular for a single woman in rural Southern Ontario become apparent through the description of daily events. However, a very dramatic personal incident and its aftermath force Clara to confront her new circumstances in a very direct manner. While she was accustomed to express her daily experiences and reflections in poems, events interfere and poetry becomes impossible. She recognizes "how suddenly a life can become misshapen, divided brutally into before and after a dire event." Her beliefs are challenged and so is her self-contained whole-ness as a person.
Clara's personal story is embedded in the realities of the mid-thirties where unemployment is rife and poverty spreading. Although at the periphery of the main thrust of the book, Wright alludes to the emerging pre-war anxieties. He touches on the contrasts between city and rural living, utilizing Clara's reluctance to accept such innovations as the telephone, as an example. Yet, the regular Saturday trips to Toronto, perceived by her as a necessary escape from the village, lead to a new, important phase in her personal development, giving her also a new taste of independence. She visits her sister in New York, although in rather difficult time in her life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing - combo of letters and diary Jan. 10 2009
Format:Paperback
Clara Callan
In short, this is the tale of two sisters - one is free-spirited who wishes nothing more than to escape her small Ontario town and become famous. The other is her sister, Clara, whose diary and letters we read.
Clara is a schoolteacher, convinced she will live a straightforward life, until she finds passion with a man whom we all later discover is married.

This is, in my opinion, a truly beautiful book. Although initially I found it somewhat slow, I soon became immersed in the world of Clara and her sister. I read it when I lived in Ontario one cold January (I was due to give birth too!!). I felt I had to write a review because so many people thought badly about this book but I adored it. I couldn't believe that a man had written so perceptively about women and in the form of diary and letters too (very personal).

For what it's worth my book club loved it too :) Enjoy!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great comedy.
The main character is so hum drum, and ends up to be a hoot!
It shows how the folk in that era lived, worked and played.
Published 16 months ago by Adrenne
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable
This was a very easy read and I enjoyed it as a change. I would recommend it to some of my friends who only read at night and don't like anything upsetting or violent. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Joan Lemire
5.0 out of 5 stars engrossing
This was my first time reading this author, and I enjoyed his writing style of written letters between the characters, as well as the main character Claras diary entries. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2011 by Novel Girl
4.0 out of 5 stars Must read!
Richard B. Wright had escaped my reading pile until recently. I just finished Shakespeare's Bastard and was so pleased with his written word and ability to write from a female... Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2011 by charmaine
2.0 out of 5 stars Does not live up to its promise
I began this book - a Book Club choice for me - with enthusiasm, and at first found it interesting. I wanted to find out what happened to the sisters, and was quite engaged in the... Read more
Published on June 29 2008 by Barnaby Black
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow - an unexpected gem
This book sat on my shelf for at least 2 years before I picked it up and once I did I could not put it down! Read more
Published on Jan. 8 2008 by K. Harrison
4.0 out of 5 stars exceptionally written and moving
this book engaged me almost instantly. although i did not always agree with the actions of the characters, i found it realistic and found i really cared about the characters. Read more
Published on Oct. 6 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Irritating
The book starts off really slowly and then achieves a certain momentum. However, when Frank enters the picture it turns into a boring, offensive, and totally cliche look at sexual... Read more
Published on June 9 2004 by Colleen E. Shea
1.0 out of 5 stars Not a very intellectual read
This book, although it has somehow managed to receive rave reviews, is one of the worst novels I have ever read. Read more
Published on April 28 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written
A well-researched, well-written novel. Brings you right inside the time period, before the Second WW. I enjoyed the sister's relationship. It was realistic and beautiful.
Published on Feb. 16 2004
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