Saturday, October 13, 2007

Consolation

Michael Redhill’s novel Consolation is a book with several faces. It is a miniature history of the city of Toronto, a mystery of the non-murder sort, and a touching character study that focuses on the attempts of two groups of people, separated by more than a century, who are forced to deal with life’s adversities when they least expected to have to do so.

David Hollis is a university historian, a late twentieth century man obsessed by his city’s history and the people who lived in it before him. He has become convinced that a complete set of the earliest photographs ever taken of the city of Toronto was lost in a storm just offshore and that they are now buried under streets built on reclaimed land that was once part of Lake Ontario. He has dedicated his life to identifying the Toronto of the 1850s that is hidden by the Toronto of today, but when he finds that he has Lou Gering’s disease he knows that he has little time left to convince anyone of authority to help him find the lost photographic plates.

Jem Hallam is newly arrived in the Toronto of 1855, sent to the city from London to start a new pharmacy at the direction of his father. Hallam left behind a wife and two daughters, hoping that they would join him in Toronto as soon as the business began to show a profit. Things do not go well for Jem Hallam and, although he is never seems quite sure how it all happened, he eventually finds himself in the photography trade and living with a dying photographer and a woman he took into his life in order to save her from a sure death on the streets of the city.

In alternating segments, the reader is able to follow both the efforts of David Hollis to identify the possible location of the missing plates and the evolution of Jem Hallam from failed pharmacist to successful photographer. Hollis, becoming more and more helpless at the hands of the cruel disease he suffered, and finding little support in his quest from colleagues, decided to end his life. It is left up to his wife and his daughter and her fiancé to try to salvage his reputation as they try to stop the construction of a new sports facility on the very spot identified by Hollis as likely to be the final resting place of this important record of Toronto’s early history.

Redhill seamlessly moves back and forth between the stories of these two men whose lives have become intertwined despite the fact that they lived more than a century apart. Jem Hallam, forced to fight for his survival in a manner he had no way to foresee when he arrived in Toronto, and feeling guilty for carving out a new life for himself with strangers while abandoning his wife and daughters in London to the care of his father, eventually produces the photos that David Hollis will so desperately search for in the future. Or did he? That’s where the mystery begins.

Rated at: 4.0

8 comments:

  1. It took me a few pages to get into this one, Elizabeth, but when I did, I found it to be a really good book.

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  2. This sounds really good. I'm adding it to my TBR list. Thanks!

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  3. Thanks, Susan. I hope you enjoy it...let me know.

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  4. I have picked this book off the shelf at Chapter SO MANY TIMES and have wondered if this would be a good read for my Book Club.
    Your review, Sam, makes me think that next time, I should puchase Consolation, and announce it as our next read.
    Thank you for your [trusted, by me] endorsement.
    -- Cip

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  5. Thanks, for the trust, Cip. I hope I don't disappoint you with this one. IMO, there's a lot for a book club to sink its teeth into with this one. It's very much like reading two books at once.

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  6. Carrie, if you try it, please let me know what you think.

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