welcome to our book reviews and news page

recent publications and classic reads revisited
covering a wide range of genre, taste and style
please join in the discussion

Saturday 16 July 2011

Crow Lake

by Mary Lawson

What is it about Canada that produces such sensitive, far-reaching fiction? Perhaps it’s the landscape, at once vast and enclosed within its highlands and valleys, studded as it is with fertile lakes and rivers. There’s something of isolation in this writing, something which produces these huge stories of ordinary people contained within small places. Already a great fan of female Canadian writers such as Alice Munro, Joan Barfoot and Margaret Atwood, I was immediately interested when my agent suggested I’d enjoy reading 'Crow Lake' by Mary Lawson.

In 'Crow Lake', Kate Morrison is the first person narrator and youngest child of a young family growing up against the beautiful but harsh landscape of rural Northern Ontario. From the outset we are drawn in, as the first chapter closes dramatically, with a significant, heart-wrenching tragedy, which will ultimately propel the Morrison children into unknown and troubling new directions.

Kate’s two older brothers are entirely believable characters, attempting to step up and become the men of the household, betrayed only by their adolescent flaws and naive views of the world. The daily sacrifices are many, and the sister’s retrospective view of their shared history shows us the pain of family members who have, with no obvious awareness of it, outgrown each other with the passing of time. From Kate’s vantage point Lawson unveils the real story with subtlety and closely controlled emotional insight, to reveal a complex, unpredictable and deeply affecting story of a family falling apart at the seams.

From the beautiful descriptions of harsh, magnificent rural Ontario to the evocative storytelling across the generations, Mary Lawson’s 'Crow Lake' is a story which lingers – compelling, lyrical and wise. I can’t believe it took me this long to discover Mary Lawson, but now that I have I’ll be looking out for her future work. And so, without further ado, I’m off to order her second novel 'The Other Side of the Bridge' – yet another book to add to my ever-increasing Summer reading pile!

Reviewed by Isabel Ashdown

Isabel Ashdown is the author of ‘Glasshopper’ and ‘Hurry Up And Wait'. Bookersatz reviews can be found here and here.

She is published by Myriad Editions.

You can see Isabel’s website (complete with Eighties Hall Of Fame/Shame) here.


Jo said...

I think Mary Lawson is a wonderful writer. She has such a sensitive touch. I read Crow Lake some years ago now, then more recently The Other Side of the Bridge. Both are novels I treasure and will keep to re-read several times over. Thank you for the reminder!

DOT said...

I have not read Mary Lawson, but your comments about landscape touch on thoughts I have held that landscape, among many other factors, profoundly influence a writer. The great 19c Russian novelists could not, would not have been able to have produce their works in any other land. This, I believe, is true of all writers in the same way it is of artists. One's milieu scours the imagination. Perhaps there is a doctorate to be written on the topic. More than likely there are many already written.

Unknown said...

I've read Crow Lake and you've reminded me I need to read The Other Side of the Bridge. A wonderful writer!

Isabel Ashdown said...

I think the role of landscape in fiction is endlessly fascinating. I recently did a library talk on 'Emotional Landscapes' focussing on the various locations in my debut novel Glasshopper. For me, depth of location is vital to the development of character; and essential to story telling.

My copy of The Other Side of the Bridge has just arrived, so I'll be taking that on holiday with me, along with many others!