Crow Lake by Mary Lawson – a review
Mary Lawson was fifty-five when this, her first novel, was published. Born in Canada and having lived in the UK for a long time, she chose to set the novel in a fictionalised part of North Ontario.
I have an image of myself lying awake, staring at the darkness. I kept trying to sleep and sleep would not come and time would not pass. I knew that Luke and Matt were awake too but for some reason I was afraid to talk to them, so the night went on for ever.
Other things seemed to happen over and over but I’m not sure, looking back, if that was only in my mind. I can still see Luke standing at the front door, holding Bo in one arm and with his free hand accepting a large covered dish from someone. I know that happened, but in my memory he spent practically the whole of the first few days in that pose. Though that could have been true – every wife, every mother, every maiden aunt in the community must have set her lips and started cooking as soon as she heard the news. Potato salad figured largely. And cooked hams. Also nourishing stews, though it was far too hot to eat them. Every time you went out the front door you tripped over a quart basket of peas or a vat of stewed rhubarb.
And Luke holding Bo. Did he really carry her for every waking moment of those first days? Because that’s how I remember it. I suppose she was affected by the atmosphere in the house and was missing our mother and cried if he put her down.
And myself clinging to Matt. I held on to his hand or his sleeve or the pocket of his jeans, anything that I could get hold of. I was seven, I should have been beyond such behaviour. But I couldn’t help myself. I remember him gently disengaging my fingers when he needed to go to the toilet, saying, ‘Just wait, Katie. Just give me a minute.’ And myself standing at the closed bathroom door, asking, ‘Have you finished yet?’ with a shaking voice.
I cannot imagine what those first days must have been like for Luke and Matt, the funeral arrangements and the phone-calls, the visits of neighbours and the kindly meant offers of help, the practicalities of looking after Bo and me. The confusion and anxiety, to say nothing of the grief. And of course, nothing was said of the grief. We were our parents’ children, after all.
The four orphans grow up before our eyes. We live with them through their trials and their victories, and witness the inordinate length of time it takes at least one of them to overcome the tragedy of their childhood.
The language is gratifying and, all in all, the novel is accomplished and extremely well managed. But it is not as accomplished as Mary Lawson’s second attempt, The Other Side of the Bridge.
I was not totally convinced of the motivation of the narrator, which detracted somewhat from my involvement and engagement with the ongoing narrative. But there is much to like here, and, for a first novel, it is a shimmering achievement.
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