For the 20th day of my Book Advent Calendar, it’s time for the letter “U”. My author of choice is Jane Urquhart, a Canadian writer from northern Ontario – a part of the province dear to my heart.
Day 20: Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart
The narrator is a 40-year-old entomologist, Liz Crane, who uses her memory to describe the golden era of a prosperous Irish-Canadian farm family and the crisis that brings about its demise. She lets her mind wander back to the fun-filled summers of her childhood spent amongst her cousins and the rest of the extended family. Individuals and relationships are revisited again and again, revealing a bit more each time, although questions remain so far as the family saga is concerned.
The theme of loss is central. Liz loses her innocence, her cousin Mandy to death in Afghanistan, her uncle, and her first love. These loses perhaps explain her aloofness from commitments and her decision to live a solitary life.
The monarch butterfly is a strong symbol. Its harsh, brief, beautiful life echoes that of her extended family and their apple orchard empire. They serve as constant reminders of impermanence which is also foreshadowed by the family members who choose careers as lighthouse keepers. The monarch butterfly’s migratory habits and generational permutations are parallels for the Butler family saga with its tales of immigration and “the Great-Greats” lives. Like a monarch, Liz seems to have a genetically imprinted sense of orientation and interconnectedness which leads her to return to her summer home.
Reflection (mirrors, water, glass) is another symbol attesting to the superficiality and fragility of appearances. Liz’s aunt shatters her treasured collection of glass after her marriage is shown to be a sham. Crumbling buildings, old furniture, useless appliances and rusty implements serve as metaphors for transience.
This is a book work re-reading. What is revealed at the end makes one want to start again from the beginning to reconsider events and people.