More Bibliotherapy and Other Solace

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By happy coincidence, after I wrote my post last week about solace, I seem to be finding solace everywhere. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in my preferred forms of solace this week. Not that I am complaining. Just exaggerating. Slightly. As I am wont to do. And which you will know if you’ve been reading my blog long enough.

First off, I finally read Mary Lawson’s book A Town Called Solace. I’ve had this book in my Kindle library for a while, but I was so immersed in Sally Spencer mystery novels that I couldn’t drag myself away.

Gad, I was obsessed with the Sally Spencer books for a time. I read them one after the other, insistent on reading them in order so I could follow the ongoing backstories of the main characters. I began with the Monika Paniatowski series, which are the latest books. And once I was up to date, instead of sitting around waiting for Sally Spencer to write a new one… yes, I know it’s really Alan Rustage doing the writing… I started back with the original Charlie Woodend series.

In the early books the main character is DCI Charlie Woodend, a middle-aged, irascible, chain-smoking, plain-spoken northerner, partnered by DI Bob Rutter, who is younger, better educated, and much better dressed. They are not unlike Reginald Hill’s detective duo: wily, rugby-playing, slightly misogynistic Superintendent Andy Dalziel and his patient, clever, and university educated partner DI Peter Pascoe. Although, to my mind, no other mystery series can really compare to Hill’s wonderfully wry and intelligent books.

The later Spencer series has Woodend retiring to Spain and his place as DCI taken by his trusty “bagman” Monika Paniatowski. I love a series with history. And reading the original series, I’m loving finding out about all the events and people that are mentioned in later books. Spencer’s books are not perfect books; the plots often have outlandish endings, but they are good fun. I know I’ve said that in my posts several times this fall. So I apologize for being repetitive.

beautiful trees and trail in Pinhey Forest, November 2021.
Walking trail on Monday

Once I was able to tear myself away from murder and mayhem, I was utterly delighted to end up in Mary Lawson’s small town named Solace in Northern Ontario. What a wonderful book! A Town Called Solace is vintage Mary Lawson. Then again, I’ve never read a Lawson book that disappointed. I ripped through it. Sadly. Because then it was over.

Lawson’s novel is about love. Love lost and love found again. Painful love, scathingly traumatic love, and nurturing love that brings solace to those who need it. Which is, in fact, everyone in the book. Never was a book, or fictional town more aptly named. The story is about a family whose eldest child has run away from home and whose younger child, seven-year-old Clara is almost catatonic with missing her sister, their elderly neighbour Elizabeth who lives alone and is currently in hospital, and the young-ish man, Liam, who comes to live in Elizabeth’s house. And, of course, Elizabeth’s cat Moses, who young Clara is caring for in Elizabeth’s absence. You have to love a writer who can paint such an evocative picture of a cat.

All three main characters in the novel are narrators: Clara, Elizabeth, and Liam. I love a book that jumps back and forth from one narrator to another. Lawson does this a lot. And so skillfully. The fact that the three narrators are diverse in age only adds to the richness of the book. It is Lawson’s ability to build character that has always stood out for me. Interesting, flawed, utterly believable characters that we come to empathize with and to love despite, and perhaps even because of, their flaws.

All of this is set in tiny Solace. Too small and boring to be of interest to anyone except the people who live there. And who would live no where else, as we find out. Solace is at the end of a long, long drive from Toronto, the last stages on bone-grindingly bad roads, we are told, amidst the forest of the Canadian Shield, on the shores of a big lake. Really it could be Haileybury, or Cobalt, or maybe even Moosonee. But it’s not. Lawson says the town is completely fictional.

Except for the flashbacks to 1940, narrated by Elizabeth, the events unfurl in 1972, at a time of year much like now, when the leaves are falling, the nights are drawing in, and everyone is girding themselves for winter. Especially in a northern town, let alone one as far north as Solace. Despite the fact that Mary Lawson lives in England now, has never lived in northern Ontario, and spent her childhood summers in cottage country in the Muskokas, an area which no self-respecting northerner would call northern, somehow she is able to capture the north. At least the physical setting of the north.

I do wish, though, that she would touch on some of the issues which plague real northern towns. Poverty and unemployment for instance. The astronomical cost of living in towns in the far north. And I wish that her cast of characters included indigenous families. Without these elements, it’s as if she’s taken a southern town and simply transplanted it into a northern setting. Much as I loved this book, and I did love it, I feel she needs a little of David Adams Richards’ grittiness in her work.

If you haven’t read David Adams Richards’ books you should. He is one of my favourite Canadian writers. His books are not set in northern Ontario, but in New Brunswick where I’m from. You can’t beat Adams Richards for gritty realism, lean and elegant writing, and his depiction of a social underclass that has its own values and its own heroes. If you’re new to David Adams Richards start with Mercy Among the Children. Or not. He is a wonderful writer, but his books do not make for… uh… restful reading. Just sayin’.

This view of the setting sun on the clouds reflected in the calm river gave me solace after my rainy walk.
Post-walk evening calm on the river, Tuesday.

So, in what other activities have I found solace this week? I went for a lovely walk on Monday with my friend and former colleague Nancy. We walked a trail in Nepean where Nancy’s grandfather once had his farm. I loved hearing Nancy’s stories about the farm and her family. Then we decamped to a new-to-me coffee spot for a delicious latté. We had a lovely afternoon… the walk, the conversation, the coffee… so restorative.

On Tuesday I was not so fortunate. I planned a solitary walk in the sunshine listening to a podcast on my headphones. But I delayed my departure because I spent a jaw-grindingly frustrating two hours trying to fix our printer. When the printer began to spit out paper as it’s supposed to do, I virtually flew out the door. Sadly, by the time I reached the trail, the sky had closed in on me, and at almost the halfway point along the trail it began to rain. Wouldn’t you know it? I was like Macbeth, “stepp’d in so far that… returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Ha.

There was no option but to return as quickly as I could. So I did. I pulled my knit hat (yes… I was wearing my woolly hat) down over my eyebrows and picked up the pace. Eventually I reached the car, wet and miserable, woollen hat dripping, down jacket (sigh) sticking to me, soaked through to the skin, and freezing. Then, ironically, when I arrived home, the sun came back out, illuminating the tops of the clouds, which gazed benignly at themselves reflected in the placid river as though they had not just doused me with rain and snow.

Still. There was tea and my book and the gas fire in the sun room as consolation. So I can’t complain.

And the other consolation was that during my walk, both the frenzied and the non-frenzied parts, I listened to a Slightly Foxed podcast on the writing of Tim Pears, whose books are now on my “to read” list. The podcast, called Tim Pears’s West Country, which you can find here, was so delightful, that I had to re-listen to it again today.

This afternoon I ordered his book, In the Place of Fallen Leaves, from the library. You should check him out if you aren’t already familiar with his work. I know I wasn’t. The descriptions of his novels by the other guests on the podcast, as well as Pears’ own stories of his love for rural Devon made me realize that I should add him to my “works of solace” list. Not to mention the fact that when I signed out his book from the OPL website, the description box written by the OPL experts said that Pears’ books were similar to Mary Lawson’s. Now how is that for serendipity?

View of the cornfield and a field of pumpkins on a late fall afternoon.
On my walk last fall

This “solace” list is a new idea. I’m going to start a list of things that might provide solace for me. Kind of storing tempting ideas. Like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. Books to read. YouTube channels to watch. Podcasts to try. Walks to go on. Projects to start.

Like my knitting, for instance. When we visited the Briggs and Little Woollen Mill in Harvey this past summer, I bought two beautiful skeins of yarn, in different colours, and a pattern for a simple knitted hat. I plan to make a purple hat and a blue one.

I just need to stop procrastinating and get started.

Now it’s your turn my friends. Have you been engaging in any bibliotherapy this week? Do let us in on any goodies we may be missing.

P.S. The book links in the post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.

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39 thoughts on “More Bibliotherapy and Other Solace”

  1. My husband and I recently finished reading aloud the Tim Pears’ West Country Trilogy and I fell in love with the stories and the characters. Thanks for the other recommendations.

  2. As Sydney emerges from lockdown I find that I need solace more and more so your Mary Lawson recommendation is most appealing and I’ll also add Reginald Hill to my reading list. The setting of Lawson’s book in 1972 brought back many happy memories for me because that was the year I turned 18 and started uni – fun times!

    Sadly, I haven’t read much lately that I’d recommend with anything more than faint praise. At the moment my solace is coming from watching Season 3 of Succession, which makes me laugh out loud at times – the characters are so unlikable that they are endearing in their human frailty. Blogs like yours and the blogs and Instagram posts of Frances and Susan as they travel through Europe also provide much needed solace, as does an online course I recently started on Impressionism via the National Gallery of Victoria.

    1. I am so envious of Frances and Sue and their respective trips. We are not ready to travel overseas yet. Perhaps next year. The character of Liam in A Town Called Solace reminded me of some of the people we met in the Yukon who went up north for a summer job and never left. It kind of gets under your skin.

      1. I almost bought a signed copy in Scotland, but for some reason (…already had bought some books) I held off. When I returned to my hotel room that evening, I got an email from my library saying it was ready to download. Was shocked to get it from the wait list so quickly.

  3. I love your book recommendations. Between you and CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel, I never have to just browse aimlessly for a title.
    I immediately hopped on Libby and tried to find today’s titles and place a hold. I did well this morning but Libby had no hits for Tim Pears!

  4. Wendy from York

    A Town Called Solace was my first Mary Lawson book & I loved it for all the reasons you describe so well . I’ve since read Crow Lake & loved that too . I have The Other Side Of The Bridge ready but I’m anticipating it for a while . She hasn’t written many books has she ? Apparently she spends years writing one book so it’s understandable .Being ignorant of the social problems of northern Canada I found your criticism interesting .
    My other favourite recent read is the new Richard Osman Thursday Murder Club . Poor Richard has had some slating for being unrealistic & twee . One commenter set him against Val McDermid & found him wanting ! Another said the group sounded more like twenty year olds than septuagenarians but I know plenty of people in their 70s who are as bright as ever . I do wonder why such vibrant , lively folk have opted for sheltered housing but it is fiction . Anyway , I enjoyed it more than the first one – Great characters, a good yarn & funny too . Real solace.
    As ever , thanks for your recommendations . The book pile gets ever higher .

    1. I remember that you’d read A Town Called Solace. So glad you also liked Crow Lake. I read that Lawson’s first book wasn’t published until she was in her fifties. I’ve been getting quite annoyed with some of the books I’ve been reading lately where characters say things like “he must be seventy if he’s a day” when they are talking about characters who live alone or do anything at all energetic. I’d like to reply to that commenter and make a reference to all the annoying whining and moaning that Tony Hill and Carol Jordan do in Val McDermid’s books. I had to stop reading them for a while. Osman’s books are a refreshing change in my view. Sheesh, I sound cranky this morning. And I’m not, just energetic… even though I’m sixty five if I’m a day. Ha.

  5. Judith Jorgensen

    Happy to hear that you have picked up your knitting….I would love to know which hat pattern you are making. I am a knitting addict….always have a project to work on and always need the “non thinking” ones to knit while watching evening movies….currently watching Inspector Lewis. I am just finishing up the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson (at your recommendation) and feel the need for some solace and less crime 😂! I’ll check out your suggestions. Thank you….always look forward to finding you in my inbox!

  6. In sorely need of Solace! Received the new Rhys Bowen ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.’ Because I am behind on the Lady Georgiana series I decided to start from the beginning, ‘Her Royal Spyness.’ Then life happened, haven’t read a bit, hubby hurt his leg and pulled his back. My Mother needed more attention at her care home, and the plumbing backed up…again. Awaiting the plumber now, going to have to replace the main, can’t keep calling the plumber every other month. Old houses! Oh yeah, Covid is raging…again in our state. But did manage to get hubby scheduled for his booster. In need of solace, time to read, time to think and not worry. Thank you for listening Sue and your readers, just writing this bit of a rant was a little solace. Stay well all, love reading the posts and comments.

    1. Gosh… you have been having a difficult time, Heather. The plumbing must have been the icing on the cake. I love the Royal Spyness series and have listened to them all on Audible. Love the Bolter. And grandfather. And even Binky.

  7. I love all Mary Lawson’s books. Another Canadian author is Richard B. Wright. I am totally engrossed in his book Clara Callan. Have you read it, Sue?
    It is an epistolary novel and is about the lives of two sisters who are totally different. One is following after an acting career in New York and one is a teacher in Ontario. It spans the years between the two world wars.

    1. Clara Callan is one of my all time favourite books, Sandra. I read it in a day. A stormy boxing day when Hubby went skiing and I stayed in and read the ENTIRE day. 🙂

  8. Thank you for introducing me to three new authors. I have added them to my ever-growing to-read list. I haven’t read a wow book for a while. I am currently reading Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat. I am about half way through. The writing is lovely, the story beautiful. It may be “that” book I have been craving.

  9. Have you read Peter Lovesey’s Peter Diamond mystery series? you should. they are fantastic. I love the detective. I love them so much that it is the only series that I reread.

  10. As usual, I read your book post and the ensuing comments with another browser tab set up for easy flipping back and forth to my library website. My hold list is well populated for the fall and winter months!

    I just finished Strout’s Oh, William! and have received a notification that Ann Cleeves’ The Heron’s Cry is ready for pickup. (There’s an eclectic pairing!)

    TV viewing of the “solace” variety has included “The Great Canadian Baking Show” and “The Great British Bake Off,” both of which I find very entertaining and strangely compelling considering that I do next to no baking at all myself. In crime series, I recently stumbled upon “New Tricks” on Britbox, which I love so far — good mysteries with a little humour (but not silliness) in the cast’s interactions.

  11. Not a book but on youtube, Dolce and Gabbanna’s 2019 fashion show. Set in the Valley of the Temples in Sicily, a glorious parade of outfits. The exquisite, ethereal sometimes outlandish all mixed together. As the late afternoon turns to dusk, the colours of the gowns start to mirror the lilacs, purples and dark blues of the sky. The music is perfect too. Even my husband who has zero interest in clothes found it mesmerising. It was much needed solace and fantasy during our long sixth lockdown.
    Now it’s Spring, vaccination rates are well up, hospital stays and death rates are down, restrictions have eased and optimism is in the air.
    Thank you for your blog, it also is a source of solace.
    Lilibet

  12. We are still in lockdown in NZ with case numbers rising. The libraries are closed as are the book shops and the post offices so I am relying on books from Amazon to read on my Kindle. Thanks to all you lovely ladies I now have a good range of authors to search for and hopefully read.
    I came across a new description of this feeling of perpetual waiting for things to improve. Seems we are languishing! Who knew?
    You may also enjoy the TV series called Endeavour- the prequel to Inspector Morse. It is set after WW ll when Morse joins the police. Very well acted and directed in my opinion.
    Here’s to some solace from our languishing.

  13. I hear you so well!

    Almost all (maybe only “all” :)) of your recommendation I like very much,so I really hope that Sally Spencer could be next series for my comfort reading

    Still have a couple of R. Hill books and completely agree with you,Sue, about him 

    I’ve read the new Peter Lovesay’s Diamond and the Eye-loved this series indeed

    I’ve found a real croatian mystery gem as well- Jurica Pavicic’s Red Water ,or in french translation , L’eau Rouge,unfortunately there is no english translation yet,but I hope it will be soon. He’s got a lot of international prizes ( among others: Grand Prix de Littèrature Policiére categorie ètranger 2021-and it is huge for croatian author) and our’s as well. It is about the missing girl,the killing and our history…it doesn’t seem comforting,but it is…and sad,too

    I can’t do a lot of sad right now,but in some bright future future-Chris Whittaker’s We Begin at the End is a good book (but very sad indeed. Enough for this year!)

    Thanks to Kenzie,I now know what I’m doing (and croatian translation of this word is excellent)-languishing,not only because of covid (the huge part though)- some other things are waiting to be decided,but I’m playing the ostrich …and read!

    Dottoressa

  14. I recommend nearly anything by Richard Wagamese! Indian Horse, Ragged Company, Dream Wheels, just a few. Sadly, his death at age sixty means that there will be no more of his beautiful writing.

    1. I think that Indian Horse is one of the best books I’ve even read. You’re right, Wagamese’s death was a great loss. And his personal story is so moving, and inspiring.

  15. I’m just starting “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund De Waal. I purchased it in Paris at Shakespeare & Co in 2013, misplaced it for awhile and found it this summer hidden on the bookshelf between a row of magazines. I’m also knitting a Christmas stocking from Briggs & Little yarn for our new grandson who is due to arrive December 10th. Our son Isaac ( who you and Stu met at the brewery this summer) and his wife just purchased a home about 1 km past Briggs & Little, we helped them move in today. They’re having an eventful Fall.
    I read “A Month in the Country” and the Helen Humphries book you suggested and enjoyed them both.

    1. Gosh, Isaac and his wife have indeed had a busy fall… and are still having. 🙂 Congratulations to you all on the impending new arrival. I have not read The Hare with Amber Eyes, but I’ve been told it’s a very special book. Even more so since you bought it at Shakespeare and Company!

  16. Thank you all for your great recommendations. I have put several on my library list. Two wonderful books that I have read lately are by Sofia Segovia: The Murmur of Bees and Tears of Amber. Just beautiful.

  17. Hi Sue. Lovely, lovely photos again. I think that they fall solidly in the “solace” category. I want to walk along the trail, the river with a sunset like that, and the pumpkin field.
    I am thrilled to have your many book recommendations in reserve, so that when I catch up on my book pile, I can move onto the books that you write about. I think that I would enjoy all of them.
    I’m currently listening to Tanya French’s The Searcher and reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour before I fall asleep at night.
    I’m working on a little post about reading for my blog this week and I am telling readers to come to your blog for great information about reading and books. It is such a pleasure to catch up with your latest book news, I want to share. The post will be published later this week.

    1. Thanks, Dottie. I will be sure to check out that post. 🙂 I listened to The Searcher too and really enjoyed it. The narrator was wonderful, which is almost as important as the story to me.

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