Doreen's Reviews > What Is Left the Daughter

What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman
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's review
Mar 06, 12

Read in March, 2011

Wyatt Hillyer writes a letter to his 21-year-old daughter Marlais with whom he has had no direct contact for 19 years. The letter is both a confession and an attempt to lay the foundation for a relationship now that she has returned to Canada after 19 years in Denmark.

The majority of the story is set in Middle Economy, Nova Scotia, during World War II. After Wyatt's parents commit suicide, Wyatt moves in with his aunt and uncle and their adopted daugher Tilda with whom he falls in love. Tilda, however, falls in love with a German student, not a wise or popular choice when German U-Boats lurk off Canada's shores, killing innocent people, including a resident of Middle Economy.

Although the letter is a confession, Wyatt's emotions, especially as they pertain to a major crime in which he is implicated, remain inscrutable. That is a major weakness both for the reader and for Marlais, the intended recipient of this extended epistle.
What is memorable about the novel is the quirky secondary characters: a sharp-tongued but open-minded bakery owner, an aspiring stenographer, a Halifax record store owner. Unforgettable, also, are the unusual occupations of various characters: a toboggan maker, a detritus gaffer, a philologist, a professional mourner.

A major theme is the effects of war. Many tragedies are caused by the war thousands of miles from actual battlefields. Seemingly sensible people make very questionable choices in the midst of war. Even love during wartime can instigate violence.

I chose this book because of its Canadian setting, but I was soon disappointed by the author's lack of research. The suicides that begin the novel take place on the MacDonald and MacKay bridges across Halifax Harbour; unfortunately, neither bridge existed in 1941. The MacKay Bridge, in fact, wasn't built until almost 30 years later!

The lack of knowledge that Americans have of Canada can also be found in a Boston Globe review of this book. In the July 11, 2010, review, Richard Eder places Middle Economy in Newfoundland.

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