I first read Away by Jane Urquhart shortly after it first came out in 1993. I remembered it being a novel set primarily in Ireland. My second reading last week revealed that a good portion of it also takes place in the back waters of Canada and Port Hope. As such it reflects the struggles of early Irish immigrants to Canada during the time of the Potato Famine and makes a very traditional pick for CanadaReads. I say traditional, because it seems to me that Away reflects the strand in Canadian literature that we learned about in school – think pioneer story, new immigrants, the savage land, encounters with First Nations peoples. In short it is a rather traditional Canadian story, if such a thing exists.
Urquhart is known for her lyrical and poetic writing, and that is what Away delivers. I am not a fan of this style – I align my taste more with Hemingway, quick and to the point. However, her writing style corresponds very nicely to the overall tenor of the story, which verges towards magical realism at times. To me Away does not stand up to other of her works, such as The Stone Carvers, but many critics will disagree with that statement.
How will Away fair in CanadaReads? Good question. It is being defended by Charlotte Gray, and I believe she knows her stuff and will defend the book admirably. At the end of the day, however, will the traditional nature of the novel appeal to the panel or drive it away (no pun intended)? I am at a loss to predict Away‘s viability as the next CanadaReads champion.
Who would like this book? This book is for lovers of straight up, traditional Canadian lit. It reminds me of Roughing it in the Bush by Susanna Moodie. Obviously, CBC obsessed reader like me will also read it because of CanadaReads.