Books focus on the passage of time

Elizabeth Cran
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Both are novels, but not the conventional kind

These two books are both about time and change.

One tells of a coastal ship stopping at every small harbour in northern Cape Breton to discharge and take on cargo, passengers, groceries and everything needed from and going to “the south.”

The other traces life and change on one country road on the Island.

Both cover the period from the 1930s to the ’60s. And the authors of both books agree it was in the 1950s that change took a sudden spurt, and important developments took place.

In addition, it must be said that while both are classified as novels, both are far from the conventional type implied. Love and sex are present, especially in Wake of the Aspy but do not play a central part. Neither do religion nor politics. Even the Second World War remains in the background.

It’s the land, the sea and the people as a whole that catch and hold our interest. Even the most visible characters are little more than shadows.

The Grand Change by William Andrews (Acorn Press, $19.95) is described as “an amazing debut novel.” And so it is, especially as the author is no longer young and came to writing only in 1995.

At first The Grand Change may strike the reader as dull, as the detailed descriptions of every type of farm work run throughout the book from autumn to the following harvest. However the steady rhythm and, lurking in the background, the increasing hints of change, somehow keep the reader persevering. By the last chapter, when all the buildings on the road have completely disappeared or fallen into ruin, one realizes this was a good book after all. Such a complete picture of a landscape and way of life has seldom been evoked. Still few or maybe no one would want to live that way now, though they might not want to live the modern way either.

Some of the same observations could be made about Wake of the Aspy by Stewart Donovan (Nashwaak Books, $17.95). This is Donovan’s second novel, but he is also a noted poet, biographer and editor of The Nashwaak Review.

The many characters in this book are less shadowy than those in The Grand Change, but still are not fully alive. However ,the sea is and the steep hills and the storms. The narrator takes a larger, more visible part, though it’s sometimes hard to tell if she/he is a man or woman. This may be deliberate.

It’s a good book, though more conventional than The Grand Change.

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: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John, N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: Acorn Press, The Guardian

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Saint John

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