Novels tell two very different but entertaining stories

Elizabeth Cran
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Both of these novels reviewed in this week’s column can be read with enjoyment — though probably not by the same people.

They are: “The Son of a Certain Woman” by Wayne Johnston (Knopf Canada, $32 hardcover, though a paperback edition should appear in 2014 or 2015) and “Those Left Behind” by Danica Robertson (Friesen Press, Victoria, B.C., no price given)

Johnston is a Newfoundlander now living in Toronto, and his books are widely known, while Robertson is originally from Halifax. She now lives on the Island and is working on her second novel.

“The Son of a Certain Woman” is set in St. John’s, starting in the 1950s and relating the life of Percy Joyce up to the age of 15. However, this is emphatically not a children’s book.

Percy is the son of Penelope Joyce, a beautiful woman who was engaged and pregnant when her fiancé, Jim Joyce abandons her. Percy was born with a “port wine stain” that covered more than half of his face, and extra-large hands and feet, all the result of some rare condition.

Their home is on a steep hill, not far below the Basilica of St. John, and surrounded on almost every side by Catholic schools for boys or girls and convents and other residences for male teachers. Pops, a chemistry teacher from the boys’ Catholic high school from across the street, actually boards with the Walshes.

The novel reads well and quickly despite its over 400 pages. The exchanges between the characters are full of wit and fun. There is lots of satire, shading into bawdiness, and sometimes blasphemy.

Some of the events are improbable, though described realistically. For the right person, it can be a great read.

“Those Left Behind” could easily have been written 50 years ago as far as characters and setting are concerned. Set in the late 1940s or early ’50s, in a depressed mining town in a location that is hard to determine, it features Lilly, a woman in her late 30s who has spent all her life looking after her adoptive parents.

After they’ve died, she finds a 20-year-old letter from which she deduces that if she goes there she may find some relations.

The book begins with Lilly, exhausted and hungry, getting off the bus in that forlorn little town. There’s plenty of intrigue and kindness, lots of ups and downs and a happy ending for all except the villains and Lilly’s long-lost mother.

The most unlikely thing about it is the way everyone keeps referring to Lilly as is she were a girl though she’s nearly 40.

To describe “Those Left Behind” in one phrase would be to call it a rather high-class romance novel. Many readers will enjoy it.

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at Her new address is: 95 Orange Street, Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: Knopf Canada, Friesen Press, The Guardian

Geographic location: Victoria, Toronto, Halifax Iceland 95 Orange Street Saint John

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