on September 6, 2007
I waited a long time to read this book. (Financial shortfalls, doncha know...) I was excited to find out that it was set in Toronto, that it might end up being 'the great Toronto novel'. (Especially after a correspondence this year with The Toronto Star's Philip Marchand on this very subject.)
Over the past two weeks, I read Redhill's debut novel, 'Martin Sloane' and his collection of short fiction, 'Fidelity' in order to prepare for this Man-Booker Prize nomination. Reading the first portion of 'Consolation', I wasn't convinced that what I was reading was going to knock my socks off. Fortunately, the novel soon enough took off and pretty much read it right through over about a day and a half. The verdict?
Mr Redhill deserves top maks for having created two characters that really, really got on my nerves, two people I really wanted to hit. His other characterizations were not as evocative. He also deserves a gold pixie for having contrasted the narrative styles of the two time-frames portrayed; Toronto in the 1850s and the 1990s. The vocabulary for the former era was especially fitting, nicely appropriate. And he managed to make me cry. Three times.
Did 'Consolation' live up to my expectations, or the hype? Hmm... No. In the end, I suppose I'd have to sum it up this way: while the premise is a knock-out one, and Mr Redhill is a very good, developing writer...would that he were as gifted a storyteller. I can think of at least three other writers who might have run a little farther, with a little more gusto and with a better end result had they authored 'Consolation'. Still, it was worth the wait.
I was prepared to be ambivalent about this novel. I find Canadian novels bleak and overwrought with death, suffering and 'big thoughts'. This book was no exception, but since I am a history buff and work with the old books and manuscripts in the Reference Library, naturally I ploughed through. I clicked with David and with Jem Hallam [not the real life John Hallam, the late 19th c. businessman who was instrumental in getting Toronto to have a free public library, but I think it's serendipitous that his name is on this character. Mr. H. collected many books, esp. on the history of Canada]. I too have 'seen' the old cities superimposed on the modern one before me. I can almost feel the doggedness and the sorrow of the mourners at Potter's field as I pass the Bank of Commerce building that stands on its site. And I could relate to Mr. Hallam. I think any Toronto immigrant could. He found a cold money oriented city, but he gradually, through Ennis and Claudia, put down roots and made a sort of life, a sort of footprint in the city. Not with the panorama, though that helped.
The book needed those pictures. There are copies of the panorama at the National Archives and at the Reference Library. They should be seen in the book because That was the Toronto Hallam saw.
The writing is evocative and powerful, but pretentious in the modern sections. I wish that David had told the story before he died. He would have shown the city's roots with more passion than his family accepted it.