Seaside Book Club –
by Deborah Rogers –
It was another great turnout for our April meeting, and everyone who attended had read our selection for the month, First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston. Okay, everyone except me. I did try, and felt I read enough to get a good sense of the book, but I never made it through to the reveal of the mystery at the heart of the novel.
This book is the third in a trilogy of books set in Newfoundland, that started back in 1999 with The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. That novel set the Canadian literary scene on fire and won Johnston many awards. It was clear that it had had a big impact on many of the readers in our group, who remember it as an all-time favourite. So there were undoubtedly high expectations for this return to St John’s and some familiar characters, including Sheilagh Fielding.
The book opens with a beautiful scene setting which pulls the reader straight into the action: a child returning home from school to an uncharacteristically empty house. Johnston’s prose is undramatic, but the detail of his descriptions and the way he draws you into the mystery is a stunning opening that leaves the reader eager to jump into the novel and find out just what happened to the boy’s missing parents.
That’s where our book group diverged. For lovers of Johnston’s work, this book felt right: the characters familiar, the setting as expected, and the writing, always, always beautiful. For others though the book was a disappointment after that stunning beginning. The pacing of the novel is slow. Perhaps on purpose, to capture that sleepy small town atmosphere, but some of our readers felt Johnston got lost with this story. There’s a range of narrators, and jumping between them caused a disjointed feeling and kept the reader removed from the action.
The characters were, on the whole, hard to find sympathy for. Johnston reveals everyone’s flaws, giving the reader an impression of a world whose inhabitants are beaten down and broken. That’s not to say it was without humour, but it’s of the dark, acerbic sort and there wasn’t much of it. Instead we watch as the young boy from the opening scene grows into a bitter man, consumed by the unknowns of his parents’ disappearance. There’s a twist in the tale, close to the end. I didn’t get that far, but our readers said that the mystery’s resolution made up for the slow middle section of the book. Whether it is entirely successful or not, it is certainly a book that deals with loss and longing, and the way that communities become fractured due to social and economic boundaries.
Thanks to everyone who came along and shared their views. Our next meeting will be Wednesday May 15 from 7 to 8:15 p.m. We’ll be in the Shoal Centre’s All Purpose Room to discuss Sourdough by Robin Sloan.
Book Club Q & A
Q How do you choose the books?
A The book selection is a little down to luck – each month the Sidney/North Saanich Library tries to get hold of a book club set for us to use. Availability is based on demand. So far we have had a choice between several titles each month, and have voted which one to use. Generally this will mean that people can leave the meeting with a copy of next month’s read. Book Club members can suggest titles they would be interested in reading from the VIRL book club sets list:
Q How do you structure the meeting?
A Members bring questions or discussion points with them, written down. These are put in a “hat” and drawn from to keep the discussion going. It leads to diverse questions and no need for anyone to feel self-conscious. The meeting is facilitated by Seaside Magazine’s Deborah and Sidney/North Saanich Library’s Virginia.
Q How do I stay up to date with Book Club happenings?
A Sign up for our mailing list and you’ll get meeting reminders by email. And follow us on Facebook to see everything that’s happening at Seaside Magazine!