Consolation, Michael Redhill's compelling novel with its story within a story, was the book all of Toronto should have read back in February. I think it was part of that whole "Keep Toronto Reading" promotion that went on for the month. As I am generally behind when it comes to city-wide celebrations, I have just managed to finish Consolation, which is also my Ontario selection for The Canadian Book Challenge. I realize it's April. I hope that it still counts.
The book starts off with a bit of a shocker, one that I don't want to spoil, so I'll skip talking about it, and go straight to what I liked best: the balancing of the story of old Toronto, with its central character an apothecary named Hallam who comes from England in the mid-1850s to open up a pharmacy here in the city, with that of the modern day (well, 1997) as told around an urban geologist named David, whose family becomes involved in the very last project he was trying to unearth, a set of very early photographs of the city taken by our historical hero. Is that confusing? It shouldn't be -- the book's epic storytelling makes it quite easy to flow from one time period to the next.
The history in this book, the detail, and the exquisite storytelling, all had me on the edge of my seat more than once. In both cases, the parts of the book that takes place in 1997 and that in the 1850s, the narrators are outsiders. Men on the cusp of something, of success, of family, of their own careers, which make their experiences unique and engaging. It's a hefty book, but the pace is swift, and Redhill's obvious skill as a poet means his prose is both lyrical and inventive at the same time.
I did find the ending a bit muddy but by that point I didn't care as much about the perfection of the story; I was already embroiled in the absolutely delicious tale of Hallam and his cohorts. In the end, I'd say that I enjoyed the historical parts of the novel a touch more than the parts set in a more modern age. But Redhill's book can absolutely stand the test of time in terms of becoming a quintessential novel about this city in which we live. It's up there with In the Skin of a Lion, with Fugitive Pieces, with Cat's Eye, and others. Highly recommended.
READING CHALLENGES: As I mentioned, I'm through Ontario! That leaves six more books to go before July 1st. Goodness, I'd best pick up the pace.