By Jane Urquhart
This book is full of symbolism and pensive reflections. It is well structured, with all the subplots neatly interwoven. It has beautiful descriptions of the north coast of Lake Erie and interesting historical background. It has tragic themes of innocence lost and star-crossed love. There are thoughtful questions on many subjects: memory, religion, family, allegiance. It draws interesting parallels between the children's poetry of R.L. Stevenson and Emily Dickenson.
But the whole plot is centred on the behaviour of one man who evidently has a mental problem and is weak, erratic, ineffective and tiresome. The narrator professes to hate him and this creates a problem for the reader who is unable to warm to him also. I don't think it is possible to engage a reader with a character whom the narrator dislikes.
Another problem for me is the character of the narrator, a pale studious woman, unable to refocus her life after a tragic love affair when she was 16. Her job is tagging butterflies day after day and she lives alone on a run-down ancestral farm with the ghosts of her past. She is sympathetic but passion-less.
I read and loved Urquhart's The Stone Carvers and Map of Glass, but I found this book slow and unemotional. I loved the prose, the descriptions, the allusions, the structure, the insights and reflections. Urquhart is a beautiful, intelligent writer, but I didn't feel any urgency in this book. I hate to be negative when the writing is so beautiful, but in the end, I didn't really care about any of the characters.