by Mary Lawson, 2021
A Town Called Solace was longlisted for the 2021 Man Booker Prize, and is quite different than most of the others I’ve read so far. Far from being a heavy drama, it’s an enjoyable, old-fashioned mystery where the author weaves together the lives of three seemingly disparate and unrelated individuals, all dealing with personal loss in a small town in northern Ontario.
In the book’s opening, one family is going through a trauma: their 16-year-old daughter Rose has gone missing after a fight with her mother. She storms out of the house and simply vanishes. The one who suffers the most is her little sister Clara, who is 7 years old and who worships the ground Rose walks on. Because she is so young, she also feels like everyone is lying to her about what is really going on—like she gets the “sanitized” version of events so as to not upset her further. Clara alternates her time between taking care of the neighbor’s cat, Moses (the neighbor, Mrs. Orchard, is in the hospital, and she promised she’d do so until she came back home), and parking herself in the living room window, waiting for Rose to return.
Then there is Liam, who arrives in Solace and moves into Mrs. Orchard’s house. Liam is recently divorced and newly unemployed, and for reasons completely bewildering to him, has just inherited Mrs. Orchard’s house. He plans to be there 2 to 3 weeks, tops—to check it out, maybe do some repairs, put it on the market, and then leave. He has no knowledge of a neighborhood girl named Clara who is coming and going with a key of her own, and feeding a cat named Moses who hides every time he walks into the house. Oh, and the police arrive within hours of Liam, who is also suspected of a crime.
The author cleverly moves backward and forward in time, slowly peeling back the layers until we see all, until the lives of Mrs. Orchard, Liam, and Clara make sense. Liam is initially annoyed by Clara and her refusal to go away, but eventually an endearing friendship develops. A 30-year-old crime surfaces to explain connections and reparations, years of loss and grief and undying love, and an old woman’s desire to make things right before she dies.
I truly loved this book. We don’t often get a feel-good ending, but this one gives it to you.
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