His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (35)

This is Elizabeth Hay’s arresting new novel.  It is a masterpiece of storytelling and emotional insight. It starts with a simple boy story who wants a dog. Then the story picks up and leads the reader into a rich and intimate world where everything that matters is at risk: family, nature, country, and home.

At the outset of the story, ten-year-old Jim and his Canadian mother and American father are on a car journey from New York City to a lake in Eastern Ontario during the last hot days of August.

What follows is an enveloping story that spans a few pivotal years of Jim’s youth and sets out competing claims on everyone’s love.  Hay deftly charts the deepening bond between mother and son as a marriage falters and the family threatens to come apart.

The story is set in the 1990s, when Quebec was on the verge of leaving Canada. This coming of age story is one only Elizabeth Hay can tell. She does so with grace and power. She probes the mystery of how members of a family can hurt each other so deeply, and remember those hurts in such detail yet find openings that shock them with love and forgiveness.

I remember this time in Quebec.  I was very poised to the referendum that ensured and all the other issues that followed. It was a very tumultuous time in Quebec. And Elizabeth Hay follows this time with such clarity and precision that you wouldn’t really have needed to be part of the unfolding political saga.

I loved this story from start to finish. What a great writer!  I can’t wait to read the other books that I took out of the library by her.



About irenesroth

I am a freelance and academic writer. I am currently writing a book called `Fearless Freelance Writers`. Please look out for it soon on this blog.
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