By Lynn Willoughby
His Whole Life ~ Elizabeth Hay
I like the structure and pace of Hay’s novels. Her descriptions of nature take you there, her characters are well rounded – flaws and all, her political bantering and comments on current events invoke personal memories and opinions. This book, by another Canadian author, is a winner!
Fairly early in the novel, ten year old Jim asks his parents “What’s the wort thing you’ve ever done?” They are driving to the family cottage and as they are caught in the car, are compelled to answer. His father, George, answers quickly with a non-committal scenario. But Jim’s mother, Nan, really understands what Jim is asking. She tries to get Jim to answer too, but with no luck. (I must say that I felt I needed to answer as well!). The mother-son bond is very strong in this book, and for many years they will each change their answers many times, with the other knowing immediately what the question is.
There are shifting perspectives in this book, between Jim and Nan, so it is both a coming of age story and the story of an unhappy Canadian woman living in New York City in a declining marriage.
Hay’s observations make one realize how we are forever shaped by our childhood. Family, friends, places, habits will stay with us our entire lives. Even as our family’s historical roots will frame us. We watch Nan react to the Quebec Referendum, to Trudeau, Levesque and Bouchard as a Canadian in the USA.
I believe this political tension is really a metaphor for Nan and George’s marriage, but it also has an effect on Jim and how he views his father. “To have a father you could not admire. To be fond of him all the same and sorry for him.”
This is a quiet, unassuming novel. “A moving reflection on nationhood and the evolution of an unbreakable mother-son bond.” – Trilby Kent
- Late Nights on Air
- A Student of Weather
In the Quebec referendum in 1995, the voter turnout was 93.52%. As Brian Tobin organized the rally of English speaking Canadians to show support for Quebec, Air Canada had a 90% off “unity sale” on seat prices.