Linda Endersby's Reviews > Shelter

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
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May 11, 12

Read from May 07 to 11, 2012

"We napped under the sheltering branches of giant spruce trees and made tea from rosehips and spruce needles and sweetened it with honey. Mom kept some one-gallon glass jugs in the car and she knew where there were springs grown round with graceful willow. We knelt in the thick moss and caught the water in the jugs as it bubbled out. We swam naked in remote lakes and creeks. We sunbathed on warm rocks like wood nymphs"

This is the beautiful life that Maggie and Jenny live with their Mom who isn’t afraid of anything (except people - "Humans are unpredictable") and their Dad, who despite his own fears, wants to shelter and care for those he calls his own. But when the girls experience the loss of both parents, how will they shelter themselves and feel safe without feeling shut in?

This haunting story set in the rugged wilds of British Columbia is told by several different voices with Maggie, the narrator as their conduit. The lives of those in the story are drawn as sumptuously as the landscape they are set in and calls to mind the story telling of the First Nations that settled the country. Animals, birds, fire, water and earth all help to illustrate the different people and their varying coming of age stories. By coming of age I really mean that the characters herein have lived in the shelter of good and bad forces and each have moments which define a turning point for better or worse. Some search them out and travel a long way to find them, other find themselves confronted by them as suddenly as the shadow of a bear blotting out the light from their trail through life.

The main theme is said by many, including the author, to be motherhood and it takes this core subject of all life to its very deepest level and explores the rollercoaster of feelings and emotions experienced by our mothers, those attempt to play the role of mother, and those who are born to and lose them.

Frances Greenslade has for me built a picture of the Chilcotin in the 1970's every bit as vivid as Steinbeck's America. The relationships and bonds between the First Nations, and the modern settlers and the land in which they live, shine through and her writing wraps you in a warm patchwork quilt even when the snow falls and the owls hoot in the darkness.

The people are as varied as the different textures of the terrain with some as wild and untamed as others are insular and set in their ways and the relationships that weave them together and tear them apart as real as they come.

This book was chosen as one of this years Waterstones 11, a showcase for first time novels and its place is well deserved. It certainly has a place in my top ten.

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