Saturday, 15 February 2020

The Empire of the Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

“Joan had been searching for her lost husband for eleven months and six days, since last October, when they’d fought about selling the land she’d inherited from her father and he’d put on his grey jacket and walked out, then screen door banging behind him.”

Earlier this year I reviewed Cherie Dimaline’s Marrow Thieves, her brilliant dystopia for Young Adults. The Empire of the Wild, by contrast, is definitely a book for adults. Nevertheless, it retains a strong element of magic realism.

Hungover and on the edge of despair, Joan stumbles on a tent set up in the supermarket car park. It belongs to a revival group doing the rounds of Métis communities. And the charismatic preacher leading the service is her husband Victor. Except that he insists that he isn’t. He is the Rev Eugene Wolff and there isn’t so much as a flicker of recognition in his eyes.

But Joan refuses to give up. She believes that Victor has become a victim of the Rogarou – a werewolf-like beasts that, in Metis tradition, haunts roads and woods.

“He was a wolf, a man, a wolf. He was clothed, he was naked in his fur, he wore moccasins to jig. He was whatever made you shiver, but was always there, standing by the road, whistling to the stars ... as close and distant as ancestors.”

And no matter what it costs, Joan is determined to get her husband back.

Dimaline has woven a powerful tale from the warp of daily life in Métis communities and the weft of traditions that reach back deep into history. She captures the visceral longing for a missing partner, for the touch of their hands, the smell of their skin. She shows up, too, the cynical use of religion as a tool to manipulate Indigenous and Métis communities.

Joan is tough, funny, resilient – maybe a little bit crazy but you’d definitely want her on your side. And you wouldn’t bet against her.

The Empire of the Wild is the book you get when a writer takes control of their own stories, their own traditions. It embodies the struggle for survival of Indigenous and Metis cultures against the unstoppable march of Western settler society. It’s hilarious, scary, fascinating and unputtdownable.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Son of the Trickster by Eden Robinson, Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, Augustown by Kei Miller, American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Avoid If You Dislike: Magic Realism

Perfect Accompaniment: Labatts beer and a Johnny Cash soundtrack

Genre: Literary Fiction, Indigenous Authors, Magic Realism

Buy This Book Here

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Review by JJ Marsh


What we thought:

Through her novel about a family home crumbling, Kingsolver addresses many contemporary issues with subtlety and nuance. At the centre of the story is a house in New Jersey. Inherited by Willa Knox in modern-day America, it seems like a sanctuary for her family until she discovers it is collapsing.

Her only hope is a grant, by proving how the house has 19th century historical value. Enter the second thread – a science teacher who believes in Darwin and his biologist neighbour.

The twin narratives flip back and forth, each shining a light on past and present dilemmas and in particular, the frustration with popular opinion.

The novel addresses social structure then and now, with some alarming parallels. Anti-evolution mobs baying for Darwin to be hanged versus political rallies chanting similar punitive measures.

Willa is a middle-aged woman whose sense of confusion as to generational attitudes and shifting sands makes it one of those books you need to stop reading and think.

My favourite kind.


You’ll enjoy this if you liked: The Lacuna, The Travelling Horn-Player by Barbara Trapido


Avoid if you don’t like: Contemporary reflections on politics and social issues, historical and contemporary blends

Ideal accompaniments: Mint tea, love soup and Billie Holiday singing God Bless the Child

Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy this book here