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Consolation (2006) by Michael Redhill 469 pages - Anchor Canada… - Electric Pages
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Date: 2009-03-02 12:24
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Consolation (2006)
by Michael Redhill
469 pages - Anchor Canada
    'I doubt a four-foot piece of the True Cross would be enough to stop work on a site in this city. You find a three-week-old potato chip in Montreal, they raise a velvet rope around it and have a minute of silence. But here, no.' (pg.281)
This novel proceeds along two separate time-lines. One narrative takes place around 1997, when the Air Canada Centre was undergoing construction. A local historian is convinced that the original plates of a complete photographic survey of Toronto from 1856 were sunk in the harbour during a storm on their return from England, a site which over the years was filled in as the shoreline moved outward, and would now be buried on the site where they are excavating for the arena. But the historian is suffering from a fatal illness and commits suicide, leaving his family to try to discover if he was right or just making things up, as his colleagues believed.

The second narrative takes place in 1856, and concerns a pharmacist who arrives from England, leaving his wife and children to arrive later, and starts operating a pharmacy his family purchased. However, business does not go well, as the city's economy is stagnant and he can't compete with already-established pharmacies. A change occurs when he begins to supply chemicals to a photographer, and he finds himself entering a life in conflict with his English upper-class preconceptions.

This novel won the City of Toronto Book Award for 2007, and was long-listed for the Booker prize. And I think the best way it can be described is that it feels very much like the sort of thing begging for a Booker. Not a lot happens story-wise, and the writing often becomes overly precious. I did like the narrative in the past a bit more, while the present-day story was mostly filled with unlikeable people (and the corporate-historic interest face-off felt like it was manipulated for dramatic effect, and I doubt things would occur that way in reality. Not that bad things wouldn't happen, but not in that way.) I think I wanted to like this more than I actually did.

There's some great pictures of old Toronto in this thread.
    'I had a thought: he and I were as real as those other people had been, who lived there once. And our being alive and their not being alive somehow wasn't that much of a difference between us. (pg.445)
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