on April 14, 2011
I had read one of Holdstock's previous novel (Beyond Measure) that impressed me (though I found the gore in that book occasionally tough to take). Into the Heart of the Country seems like a completely different kind of novel. Holdstock's attention to detail and accuracy remains, though the treatment of the content seems much more in tune with the feel of the setting--a sparsely populated and unforgiving New World. The story itself is part tragedy of human hubris, the fallacy that man can conquer nature, and part love/conflict story between members of two grossly different civilizations. Holdstock's treatment of the historical figures is delicate, withholding judgement on actions that seemed (to me) appalling. Further, I think her portrayal of Individual thoughts, motivations, and language seems genuine. Often in Historical Fiction authors project their own language conventions or beliefs onto characters whose language style and thoughts would have been shaped by vastly different circumstances hundreds of years ago. However, Holdstock seems to deftly capture dialogue and internal thoughts in a way that seems genuine and does not demand much effort to suspend disbelief. While reading, my only serious complaint was about the ending, which (without spoiling it) I felt could have been treated more compassionately (though this may be an indication of my own emotional involvement with the story ;). A fantastic read for those who enjoy accurate and gripping historical fiction!
on July 19, 2015
Beautiful, beautiful. If you like Louise Erdrich's books, you will love this one. Ms. Holdstock is a poet. I enjoyed Into the Heart of the Country in the way I did Erdrich's, The Plague of Doves--transported to another time and place through a compelling story, rich imagery, and lyrical sentences.
Just one example of what I was captivated by, and why this book was long-listed for the 2011 Giller Prize:
"I have looked on this in all the long days and I have seen how the people were like seeds adrift across the land and blown by their hunger."
Research is integrated seamlessly into the narrative. Ms. Holdstock is a masterful storyteller who brings alive the early days of the fur trade in the North-West wilderness of the 1700s. Ms. Holdstock tells the story of a native woman who is drawn into a white man's world and also gives us a glimpse of that white man's reality, so that we may understand both the heart of the culture that was destroyed and the lack of heart in the one that destroyed it.
Molly, the native woman in this story thinks, "The breath of the dogs in the winter air? I am less. I am less than the high white smears across the blue roof of the world. All my people starved and broken."
"Still, I am not tragic." First Nations author Lee Maracle wrote this line in a poem for a truth and reconciliation book called Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. Ms. Holdstock perfectly captures this truth: although the story of Indigenous people is ultimately tragic in the face of colonialism, the individuals who lived and continue to live that story are not.
Indigenous stories are at the very heart of our identities. Books like The Orenda, The Plague of Doves, and Into The Heart of the Country tell us what First Nations people lost for us to gain the freedom that we enjoy.