Genres: Canadian Literature
Publisher: New Canadian Library (Penguin Random House Canada)
Publication date: January 1st 1989 (first published in 1941)
On my "quest" to read more Canadian Literature I joined the Hello Hemlock book club and this was the first pick of 2015. Being the first time I read anything from the author I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a very raw, rather bleak image of Saskatchewan in the 1940s. This is not a bad thing mind you, I feel like the author managed to translate not only the coldness of the weather but the coldness of the people in his story. However, the story being told by the wife (she remains nameless all through the book) I was sad, albeit not surprised, to have it told in a submissive, almost weak voice that had let go of all desires and dreams.
It's a woman's way, I suppose, to keep on trying to subdue a man, to bind him to her, and it's a man's way to keep on just as determined to be free
While I enjoyed the experience given by this story I did not enjoy the story itself, nor did I like the narrator. Our narrator was (in my opinion) the image of "her time" almost to the dot. Left her dreams of being a musician behind, bends to her husband's decisions even if she doesn't agree with them, and puts her down quite often. The book was originally published in the early 1940s, so I would think that she is a product of the woman image back then and the construction of a character that is meant to be sorrowful and heartbroken. As I mentioned, I haven't read anything else from Ross so I can't be sure if that's the way he always depicted women, but this fragile type of female character was pretty common for a long time, particularly when the author was male.
The narrator is a complex one, that I have to admit, but I just felt sad every time she would talk about herself. A couple of time she would try to take a stand, to afterwards either feel guilty, or just bend to others whims. Towards the end she sort of becomes determined, but for all the wrong reasons.
What did I enjoyed about the experience was mostly related to the landscape described by the author. It was very immersive; I could easily feel the emptiness of the landscape, the loneliness of the small town and more than the physical landscape, it is easy to understand the "feel" of the town: the lack any culture other than the one related to the Protestant church, the pettiness of some of the characters and off course, the dependence on appearances in such a small enclave as this small town is portrayed.
The part I probably liked the most is the cultural critique, namely: In the car, Paul said thoughtfully that that was the worst penalty inflicted by education, the way it separates you from the people who are really close to you, among whom you would otherwise belong. I chose this quote because it is something that, as any grad student has probably felt, the more specialized you become on one subject, the highest the risk to isolate yourself of other people whom, in other situation, you would enjoy immensely.
I guess I can see why this is one of the mandatory reads for many schools here in Canada. I can also see why so many readers found it heavy to read and ultimately not engaging, or boring even. I am not sure who I would recommend this book, other than to others like me that would like to learn a bit more of Canadian Literature.