August 13, 2013 by Vicki
Jane Urquhart’s Away shares one Irish family’s mythology on their immigration to Canada and resulting efforts. The novel, Away, spans from 1840s Ireland to present day Canada. In the novel, Jane Urquhart focuses on the lives of the women of the family and the ramifications of their action for the entire family. In many ways, it is a novel of her story where we examine the lives of women and how it has impacted history.
I enjoyed this novel for its rich description of character and place. Jane Urquhart shows her love of Canadian wilderness through her detailed descriptions of the various locals. Urquhart writes description as if she were painting a landscape in the mind of the reader. I envy and applaud the descriptions. She balances between character, plot, and description so that each flows from the other in a natural progression. I have lived near the Great Lakes and her description of their landscape made me feel as if I, once again, was standing on their shores.
Jane Urquhart uses memory to fuel this novel. The reader is introduced to the narrator at the beginning of the novel. She is an elderly lady who has watched her family’s holding be destroyed by man’s greed. (No, I am not telling you how. . . That would be telling.) She knows that she will have to leave in the morning so she spends the night retelling her family’s story to herself. The reader is a fortunate ‘fly on the wall’ who receives the tale without her knowledge. The narrator’s lack of knowledge about her audience means the audience does not doubt the truth of her recounting. She has no need to lie except for those histories that we all lie to ourselves about. The reader knows that many of her stories, no doubt, would have been slightly edited if she had been aware of our presence. One does not normally share the intimate hurts and betrayals of family to strangers. Yet, amidst those hurts and betrayals, we discover a family with strength, determination, compassion and a great deal of intelligence.
I think my favourite character was Moira; a young girl whose life is changed by the discovery of a dying sailor on her shores. She remains unafraid of living her life or her own needs even at great cost. She is extremely intelligent and curious. I loved the description of her learning about the geography of other lands. Her joy and wonder was a delight to share in and I could not help but empathize. I also have always loved learning new things. In the end, Moira does something that the reader may find difficult to accept. Yet, she remains true to herself by making that decision and she could not have done so if she had made a different choice. All of the women in her family share her strength of will and the knowledge that one of their own could make such a sacrifice adds to that strength.
I recommend Jane Urquhart’s Away to anyone who enjoys stories of place and family. I will warn you that this is not an easy read. Jane Urquhart’s prose can be very dense with meaning and the deeper you consider the story, the more you will enjoy it. Please share your experience of Jane Urquhart’s Away below and don’t hesitate to share any books by woman authors that you have discovered.