We read Away by Jane Urquhart for our August meeting. Set in 19th century Ireland and Canada and present day Ontario, the novel is an entrancing combination of myth and history. Multi-generational, the narrative begins with a shipwreck in a small community in Ireland, then moves through the famine and emigration to settlement in an inhospitable Ontario near Port Hope. The present day story is that of Esther, a descendant of the family. Esther is watching as quarrying destroys the family home on Lake Ontario, a home filled with history and memories. The writing is beautiful and haunting, as well as imaginative, with striking imagery throughout.
The novel is a meditation on what it means to be ‘away’ in one’s life. The reader, in addition to learning about each character’s personal struggles and journey, also learns about the political struggles of the Irish in both Ireland and Canada, political struggles that are quite personal for many characters.
For many of us, this was a second read of Away. We had read – and loved – the novel shortly after it was published in 1993. This time around, we were struck, despite our fears, by the fact that we liked Away just as much, but that we found ourselves drawn to different sections this time and to different characters. It was a lovely illustration of how much the reading of a novel is determined by what the reader brings to the novel and where she is in her own life.