‘I’m trying not to look ahead or set rules for myself. In the same way that I’m trying not to look back.’
‘The theory’s good,’ she said.
A Town Called Solace–the brilliant and emotionally radiant new novel from Mary Lawson, her first in nearly a decade–opens on a family in crisis: rebellious teenager Rose been missing for weeks with no word, and Rose’s younger sister, the feisty and fierce Clara, keeps a daily vigil at the living-room window, hoping for her sibling’s return.
Enter thirtyish Liam Kane, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, where he promptly moves into the house next door–watched suspiciously by astonished and dismayed Clara, whose elderly friend, Mrs. Orchard, owns that home. Around the time of Rose’s disappearance, Mrs. Orchard was sent for a short stay in hospital, and Clara promised to keep an eye on the house and its remaining occupant, Mrs. Orchard’s cat, Moses. As the novel unfolds, so does the mystery of what has transpired between Mrs Orchard and the newly arrived stranger.
Told through three distinct, compelling points of view–Clara’s, Mrs. Orchard’s, and Liam Kane’s–the novel cuts back and forth among these unforgettable characters to uncover the layers of grief, remorse, and love that connect families, both the ones we’re born into and the ones we choose. A Town Called Solace is a masterful, suspenseful and deeply humane novel by one of our great storytellers.
Sometimes a book comes along and from the very first sentence it has the right tone, the right rhythm, and fascinating characters that instantly feel relatable and are easy to engage with all along the narrative journey. When I finished the last paragraph, I was bereft, sore-eyed and emotional about this astounding piece of writing.
Clara, Elisabeth Orchard and Liam — have each suffered tragedy. These three main characters, a young girl, an elderly woman and a middle-aged man (who moves into the woman’s house after her death and becomes Clara’s new neighbour) are so vividly drawn that I felt I was standing right in the middle of their lives, walking alongside them, visiting the local cafés, the nearby lake and standing in the living room with little Clara, who is so deeply struck with missing her sister that she refuses to leave the window in case she may miss the return of rebellious runaway teenage Rose.
What I loved about this book is that it portrays loneliness, the need for connection and belonging as well as the grief that comes with loss with deep compassion yet also without sugar-coating mental pain that can hit a person hard at any age. By alternating between the three points of view, the author creates carefully crafted layers of suspense and anticipation which carry the different storylines all the way through the book until the final resolution. This structure creates an emotional page-turning reading journey and the switches move effortlessly between the past and the present, adding surprising elements and engaging dialogues that give each protagonist their distinctive voice and backstory.
By the time the story ends, I felt that I witnessed a perfect example to why being human can be so hard and is often complicated and confusing. I warmed to each one of the characters and their stories taught me yet again why fiction when well executed shows that people’s behaviour cannot be seen in black and white. What drives them is complex and unique and touches on many big themes such as love, grief, family history and crime.
I’ve intentionally said very little about the story itself, simply because I don’t want to give away anything from this
If you enjoy books by Anne Tyler, Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout, you’ll find that Mary Lawson’s style of writing is right up your street.
The Book in three words: Gripping, intimate and moving
I’d love to know your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it!
About the author
Mary Lawson (born 1946) is a Canadian novelist.
Born in southwestern Ontario, she spent her childhood in Blackwell, Ontario (located between Sarnia and Brights Grove) and is a distant relative of L. M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables.
Lawson moved to England after graduating from McGill University with a psychology degree in 1968. She also married in Ontario, has two grown up sons and now lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey. Her three novels to date, both published by Knopf Canada were set in Northern Ontario.