Since returning from my summer trip to our family farm with a pack of my great grandmother’s letters and journals, I’ve read two novels that resonated with my connection to the past. In fact, if I were to write a novel inspired by my own ancestors, these two novels were examples of the type of story I might end up with.
This week, I’ve literally been hibernating in Myrna Dey’s “Extensions.” I chose it from this year’s Giller Prize Longlist. The main character, a police officer on the Burnaby-Vancouver border, becomes engrossed in the life of her great grandmother through letters. The letters take the reader back to the late 1800s on Vancouver Island, during the early mining days of the new colony. I’m very interested in this history due to my work at a national historic site in BC. Having grown up in Eastern Canada, I didn’t learn very many details of the history of British Columbia, so it’s especially relevant. Plus, the great grandmother’s story is full of intrigue. I also found the book interesting because having lived in East Vancouver for five years, I knew most of the locations in the novel firsthand.
The other novel I read and enjoyed was “Alone in the Classroom” by Elizabeth Hay. This book was even more introspective and meandering in the second half of the story, but still interesting to me since it was about a Canadian school teacher in the Depression years. I had just finished reading my own great aunt’s letters home during her year at Normal School in London Ontario in 1939-1940.
While these letters from my ancestors leave a lot out a lot of details, it is interesting to imagine what story could be developed between the lines. I really liked the way Myrna Dey dealt with what was going on between the lines of her great grandmother’s letters by bringing those mining town days to life in narrative form.
For book reviews see:
Extensions – review by Christina Decarie
Alone in the Classroom review by Aritha van Herk