by Michael Redhill
2006 / 466 pages
rating: 8/ historical fiction
>>>>NOTES (Spoilers and photos) >>>> 

The book seems long but it reads quickly enough.  It’s basically an homage to the city and history of Toronto and an interesting take on history, photography, love, guilt and loneliness.

In August of 1997 David Hollis, a noted historian, has died leaving an unresolved mystery behind him.   He contends in a monograph written shortly before ALS almost completely disabled him,  that there is a diary and other artifacts beneath the harbor land to be used as a hockey stadium.  But he won’t produce the source.  Believe him or no – he is certainly convinced.

Now,  a couple months later, his widow,  Marianne Hollis,  is determined to find what her husband wrote about and stations herself in a room in a high-rise hotel with a  bird’s-eye view of the excavation site next door.  She is watching to see if the excavation process unearths anything interesting.

Marianne’s daughter Bridget is very upset with her for doing this and Bridget’s  fiancé, John Lewis, a really sweet, immature bumbler of a guy,  tries to heal that wound as well as deal with his own grief at having lost his future father-in-law, the closest thing to a father he’s ever known.

In chapters alternating with the contemporary tale of grief, guilt, love and faith is a story unfolding in the 1850s, kind of assumed to be set on the same place as the excavations are now happening.  Perhaps these chapters are from the diary that David “knew”  to be buried there?

Here we have a new English immigrant to Toronto determined to set up shop as a chemist (pharmacist) with his father’s money and the blessings of his wife and children in Camden. Jem Hallem  has a goal and a plan,  but things aren’t going to turn out quite as easily lucrative as he expected and he gets involved with a photographer and his model to create a photographic company.  With the help of the other two,  Hallem experiments and learns to take photographs indoors and out,  of customers,  buildings and the city – among other things.  This story has an equally good plot.

The stories are mirrored from the lonely and guilt-ridden protagonists,  John Lewis and Jem Hallem, to the idea of preserving history or for history as well as the theme of  diaries, letters and photographs as evidence.  They are always somewhat distorted or constrained  by the light, angle, set-up, authorial/historian/photographer’s vision- invention,  equipment, and so on.  So too with historians and writers – perhaps researchers.  Editing and invention are constant factors.

The themes of grief, guilt, and love are also mirrored.

David Hollis, the historian in the book,  has called his expertise “forensic geology” which certainly makes the city of Toronto a character.  Redhill follows through and the city of Toronto comes alive – albeit more so for folks who are very familiar with the city.
>>>>NOTES (Spoilers and photos) >>>> 


2 Responses to Consolation

  1. Haha, the city is a character! I might get this for my daughter’s birthday given she returned late last year from living in Toronto for nearly two years. A lovely city.


  2. Yup – a good example, imo. Your daughter would probably enjoy it knowing Toronto. Consolation was a Booker Long-lister a few years ago.


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