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on September 24, 2007
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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on November 21, 2008
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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on July 12, 2002
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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 29, 2002
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. Cleverly, Wright lets her visit pre-war Italy as a third party to her sister's vacation. It allows the author to add impressions of the growing political conflicts in Europe as a backdrop without losing the focus of the story.
The counterweight to Clara is Nora, who could not bear small-town Ontario and leaves for New York to "make it in radio". She becomes successful as a radio voice in daytime "soaps" and her personal life seems to take on some aspects of a soap opera itself. Nora is privileged in finding a solid rock in a glamorous female friend, Evelyn, while her on and off affairs are far less successful. Clara, always concerned about her sister and her superficial lifestyle, attempts to remain the firm family base for her sister, but her own life story places her more and more on a shaky ground. She finds advice and empathy through her correspondence with Evelyn.
Clara Callan is a very engaging story indeed. Wright successfully places himself into the mind of a woman: Clara's personality quietly and gently takes hold of the reader as one follows her in the exploration of the multifaceted realities of her time and place.
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on January 10, 2009
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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on January 8, 2008
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! I did not expect to get swept up in the life of a small town Ontario teacher in the 1930s, yet this thoroughly engaging novel drew me in immediately and by the end I felt I knew Clara as a best friend or sister. The confessional style of her journals is contrasted with her guarded yet candid correspondance with her sister and friend in New York. A quiet conservative small town life is inturrupted by a horrific incident which changes the course of Claras life and ultimately allows her to take some risks, including a trip to Italy and an affair with a married man in Toronto. Through it all Clara writes with keen observation and often sardonic wit. She eventually finds peace in surprising circumstances. Incredibly well written and Highly recommended.
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on November 11, 2011
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. The book is written in 3 parts all taking place in the late 1930's.
The best part of this book was comparing all forms of communication as they were then between how they are now.
This author writes historical fiction very well, and his writing is also very thought provoking. The story of these 2 sisters just flows into a great blend of tragic events, comedy, love, awakening, and secrets. Exactly like real life. It was a very entertaining read from start to finish.
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on October 6, 2004
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. in fact, it reminded me a little of the relationship i have with my own sister. i was very impressed that a male author was able to write the inner dialogue of two young women so well.
the true sign of an engaging novel is wanting more when you get to the end - and when i turned the last page i felt disappointed to say goodbye to Clara and Nora...
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on January 7, 2011
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 perspective that I have continued on with his other novels. Clara Callan is a superb novel, a must read for every woman; it is clever in its narrative of the pioneer woman who yet craves relationship with the text book adulterer. I really enjoy the authors clever prose and use of sentence structure!
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on November 1, 2002
Just a wonderful book. I had to check to make sure it was really fiction. The writing was so well done and interesting I could have sworn I was in small town Ontario in the 30's. I'll be eagerly anticipating his next book and will be checking out some of his earlier work.
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