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Consolation    by Michael Redhill order for
by Michael Redhill
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Consolation is really two books in one. In present day Toronto, ground that used to be underwater is being excavated in preparation for building a new sports arena. Marianne Hollis is watching the excavation from a hotel overlooking the site. Because of her late husband David's research, she believes that a boat sank in that location back in 1857 before the lake was filled in. There were supposedly photographic plates on that boat documenting the entire early city of Toronto. Her daughter's fiancée, John Lewis, becomes interested in her vigil and begins to do research on the boat and the photography of the time.

We flash back to 1855 and meet Jem Hallam, a chemist who has been sent to Toronto from England by his father to open a new shop. The pharmacy isn't doing well, and Jem is miserably homesick for his wife and young daughters. He meets a photographist, Sam Ennis from Ireland, and a widow, Claudia Rowe from England, and in time the three join forces to make money at photography, which seems to be a much more promising field in the young city than a new pharmacy.

In 1997, the Hollis family and John are mourning the death of David and are struggling with family relationships. In 1855, the three photographers miss their families and grieve for what they've lost, but they form a sort of new family of their own. All of the characters are consoled by their new and deepening relationships. The past and present stories are tied together by the need for consolation as well as by the respect that all of the main characters have for the heritage of the city they live in, Toronto.

I enjoyed this book so much, both for the interesting stories and for the wonderful characters. I became totally engrossed in each story, and going back and forth between them was wrenching because I wanted to know what would happen next. Each time I left one set of characters behind there were unresolved problems, but I would quickly become caught up in the alternate story. The book is beautifully written and was pure pleasure to read.

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