Thursday, June 24, 2010

Read Your Way Around Nova Scotia - Cape Breton

Last year we read our way around Nova Scotia and had such a good time, we thought we'd go again.

Tessie Gillis has been heralded as the "Godmother of Cape Breton fiction". Though she came from away, she described life in rural Cape Breton with keen insight. She married a farmer and moved to isolated, rural Cape Breton. There, she worked tirelessly for her family and her community until she was bedridden with a heart attack. Frequently on oxygen, this was her time to write. This particular volume, The Woman From Away: The collected writing of Cape Breton's Tessie Gillis contains her two novels, short stories and a family memoir. The introduction contains fascinating notes from her editor which describe how she developed as a writer. Her writing is spare, honest and unflinching. She writes about life in rural Cape Breton from a woman's perspective and does not shy away from the darker side of life which often included alcoholism and domestic abuse. She died in 1972 without ever seeing her work in print.

The Bishops Man by Linden MacIntyre has been much in the news (and in The Reader) this year. Father Duncan MacAskill, a young priest in Creignish, Cape Breton in the 1970's witnesses, what he believes to be, an inappropriate relationship between a priest and a young person. He reports the matter and, for his trouble, is banished to Honduras. Upon his return, he becomes "The Bishop's Man", or the troubleshooter who takes care of priests who have behaved badly, banishing them, as he was banished, to remote parishes. It becomes clear that a boy's suicide is linked to a priest he had dispatched in the past. MacAskill must confront his own responsibility and face his dysfunctional family past. MacIntyre, a journalist, gives this book and investigative feel and presents the difficult subject manner with thriller-like intensity.

MacKenzie's Cove by Truman Layton was inspired by tales of his own Scottish ancestors. Forced off their ancestral lands, Scottish emigrants made their way from the Highlands to Cape Breton. They forged a relationship with their Acadian neighbours and endured harsh conditions as they resolutely set about forging their new life. This heartwarming story explores family ties and the experiences of early immigrants in Nova Scotia.

Relative Happiness by Lesley Crewe proves that life in Cape Breton is not just about hardship and isolation. Crewe is a fresh, funny voice whose books have a modern date-movie feel to them. Lexie, a 30 year old woman, is living in Glace Bay and loving her life. She loves her quiet family centered-world , her house and the great big sea surrounding her. Despite her contentment, maybe because of her age, she begins to feel that something is missing. Then enters Adrian, a charming traveler who makes her quiet life much more complex.

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