Sunday, November 22, 2009

I think I have read this somewhere before...

The epistolary novel is one that is written in the form of a series of documents. Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen (see last entry) had some element of this in the diaries of Jeanne Proust. Clara Callan by Richard Wright is entirely told in this form. Primarily the diaries of the title character; Clara is a school teacher living in rural Ontario, in the same house she grew up in. It is also told through letters, between her and her sister, her and her occasional lover and a few others thrown in. Clara's sister Nora lives in New York and is a radio soap opera store.

The story is very familiar: younger more rebellious sister leaves rural Canada to pursue dreams in New York; older more sensible sister stays behind. The plot outline is copy and pasted from Student of the Weather by Elizabeth Hay. After this brief sketch is where the similarities end (thankfully). I feel like Richard Wright read my post on Student of the Weather and fixed everything I had complained about! The novel focuses on Clara and her struggle with small town life and finding her place in the world. Through the letters and diaries, Wright paints a picture of rural Ontario, big city New York and the family connections that surpass geography and time. The story is set in the 1930s, and the novel is also an exploration of the rising issues of the times (communism, fascism, loosening morals).

The only complaint that I have is the weak ending. I won't ruin it, but I didn't think it was necessary to go that far into the future. I appreciated the attempt to provide the reader with insight into why we were granted access to the private life of Clara, but I didn't need that. I was satisfied with peaking through the window, without Wright opening the door.

A lovely novel, definitely on my top list (so far anyway).


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