You can’t beat a local story by a local author and this novel excels in all departments. I literally could not put this book down as it drew me into the story of the lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island and his two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. It is not possible to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged right up to the last page.
The story is also told by another key character, Morgan, whose urban life in Thunder Bay is intimately connected (but unknown to her) with the light keepers daughters. I have noted that while English literature is shaped by history, Canadian literature is dominated by the natural environment, and the point is well proven in this novel. The real star of the show is the landscape, dominated by Porphyry Island, which is almost magical in its appeal. Silver Islet, the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior also feature strongly.
Jean E. Pendziwol pulls you into her compelling narrative which contrasts the slow pace of an idyllic life growing up on Porphyry Island, to the fast pace and perils of modern city life. Porphyry was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and first lit the waters near Black Bay in 1873. Andrew Dick, the keeper on Porphyry Island from 1880 to 1910, left behind several personal journals that recorded his time at the light with his Indigenous wife Caroline and their ten children. These journals were the inspiration for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters which is a testament to the Canadian men and women who served as Great Lakes lighthouse keepers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
John Pateman is CEO/Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.
John Clare was a respected nature poet in the 1820’s. But that’s not how we meet him 20 years later in Adam Foulds’ The Quickening Maze. Clare has been incarcerated in the High Beach asylum run by Dr. Matthew Allen, and he is mentally deteriorating despite the doctor’s best efforts to help him. Clare believes he has two wives: his real wife, Patty, and his childhood sweetheart, Mary. He insists on writing poetry to Mary and refuses to listen when anyone tells him he shouldn’t. Clare also wants to spend every minute out in nature. But under the asylum rules, Clare has to be back at night; failure to return results in his outdoor privileges being revoked. But he risks it time after time because he feels like being inside is killing him.
Alongside Clare’s narrative are two other main ones: Dr. Allen begins a new enterprise, turning his attentions away from his asylum in favour of woodcarving. Meanwhile Hannah, one of Dr. Allen’s daughters, searches for love with unavailable men including Alfred Tennyson, who is staying nearby because his brother is at the asylum. I found these two narratives interesting because of how they parallel and contrast with Clare’s own story: Dr. Allen faces many setbacks, which slowly cloud his sunny disposition, while for her part, Hannah manages to grow up thanks to chasing the unattainable.
The Quickening Maze is a beautiful but sad book, giving a look at how quickly life changes and how it can change you in the process.
Bambi by Felix Salten.
This is my final entry in this blog. I am retiring shortly and to quote myself “I’m as excited as a little pig”.
I thought I’d end it with my favourite book – Bambi. Years ago I applied for a job in the Victoriaville branch of the library. During the interview I was asked what my favourite book was. I quickly blurted out “Bambi…or maybe Gone With The Wind”. I always wondered how that was perceived. Oh by the way…I didn’t get the job.
Anyway…yep, my favourite book has to be Bambi. It has been described as combining innocence, realism and a profound respect for nature. It has something for everyone – friendship, parental relationships and sadly, bereavement.
Born in the thicket we follow him from a spindly legged fawn to a strong buck. Like most children Bambi is filled with questions and blanketed in his mother’s love. He is in awe of the universe around him, even a butterfly becomes a great adventure. The original Bambi is definitely not the Disney version. A squirrel is killed by a ferret, a pheasant is killed by a fox. Winter comes and life is a struggle for survival.
But, I’ve always enjoyed the story and it’s probably the source behind my fondness for deer today. If you’ve never read the book or haven’t read it since you were a child, now’s the time to give it a try.
Anyway…here’s to Bambi and my final blog entry. And here’s to you, the reader of this blog.