Historian David Hollis believes he has found a treasure of incalculable value: a trove of old photographs, the earliest pictures ever taken of a great city in its earliest days. The glass negatives, he is certain, were in a strongbox on a ship that sank in the city's harbor a century and a half earlier. That wreck, by his calculations, is beneath a landfill in the process of being excavated for a new sports arena. If construction can be halted for a search, a unique record of the city's birth might be reclaimed for all.
David's quest is unfulfilled at the time of his death, and his widow, Marianne, takes up the challenge. Confronting skepticism and resistance, she learns more about Jem Hallam, the immigrant photographer whose pictures become her grail. In a masterful interweaving of two centuries, Consolation unfolds the story of Jem Hallam's life alongside Marianne's search. What brought him from England to the new and still primitive town of Toronto? Why did he leave his wife and children behind? What drove him to photograph this young metropolis in such vivid detail?
Consolation moves back and forth between the stories of David's legacy and of Jem Hallam's life, revealing a mysterious connection. Nothing less than survival itself is at stake for Jem Hallam, while love and pride drive Marianne Hollis's effort to vindicate her late husband. Michael Redhill makes each element of his unforgettable story both profound and suspenseful, brilliantly illuminating how time and grief alter the contours of even the things we think we know for certain. It is the work of a writer at the top of his form.
Redhill's signature poetic touch and finely drawn characters are on display in his second novel (after story collection Fidelity and novel Martin Sloane), an homage to Toronto, from its rough and tumble past to its contemporary civility. After avid historian and archivist David Hollis dies, his widow, Marianne, takes on the task of confirming his unfounded claim about the location of the long-lost first photographs ever taken of the city. She's joined by her soon to be son-in-law John, an earnest writer's assistant who seeks to bring his fiancee and mother-in-law together in their grief. Their examination of the past, both in the purview of David's completed life and the panoramic city history, is interwoven with the story of Jem Hallam, a Londoner who moved to Toronto in its Wild West days and found himself allied with a female portrait model and a brokenhearted Irishman. The stories fit together in an unexpected way, and Redhill's taste for quiet examination of relationships, grief and small failures of love make for a thought-provoking read. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Little, Brown and Company
February 01, 2008
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