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Clara Callan

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  8,750 ratings  ·  341 reviews
In a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for New York. It's a time when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and people escape from reality through radio and the movies. Meanwhile, the two sisters -- vastly different in personality, yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published December 2nd 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2001)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,750 ratings  ·  341 reviews


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Glenn Sumi
One of the best Canadian novels of the millennium (so far!)

When it was published in 2001, Clara Callan swept Canada’s book awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Giller Prize (a feat I don’t think has been duplicated). No wonder. This novel is that rare thing: a literary page-turner.

It tells the story of two Canadian sisters living vastly different lives in the mid-1930s: the eponymous, 30-something Clara is a schoolteacher in a small Ontario town (about two hours from Toronto),
...more
Megan Baxter
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed this book. It mixes diary entries with letters in a hybrid epistolary novel, but does it very well. I complained because Jo Walton's Among Other was in a diary format but didn't use it as well as I would have liked. This is how to do it well. There is a narrative here, related by Clara to her sister, Nora, her friend, Evelyn, or, much of it, to herself alone. And it is compelling.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enfor
...more
Iris P

Clara Callan

Great story-telling and characters, love the historical background and the strong but complicated female characters.
Couldn't stop listening to this audiobook and the journal entries/epistolary structured works very well in audio.

Highly recommend it if you are looking a well written historical fiction that's also a page-turner.
...more
Blair
Late Canadian author Richard B. Wright's award winning 'Clara Callan' is an epistolary novel covering a four year period just before World War two. After the death of their father, Clara's sister Nora departs for the Big Apple to become a radio voice actress while Clara, a schoolteacher, stays behind in the family home in small town Whitfield, Ontario. A correspondence between the two sisters (among others) along with Clara's journal entries make up the novel - an intimate peak into the lives of ...more
Bethany
Jan 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: epistolary
As I mentioned, I had mixed feelings about this one... The beginning was great; I was enchanted! Clara Callan, the main character, was a poetess and I quite identified with her and the way she viewed life. I was delighted with the letters sent between the two sisters and I liked the contrast of the two voices: the reserved, pensive voice of Clara and the more exuberant one of Nora.

Actually, I spent almost the whole book thinking I really liked Clara and Nora, but by the end I realized my feeling
...more
Friederike Knabe
Dec 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-lit
Clara Callan, the protagonist of Wright's novel, is a small town spinster in the 1930s. She lives a reasonably comfortable life thanks to the inheritance of her father's house and a job as a local schoolteacher. Through her diary entries and exchanges of letters, mainly with her more glamorous younger sister Nora, Clara reveals herself to the reader. Wright has created a believable character that "grows on you" as her personality emerges little by little. Life's difficulties during the Depressio ...more
Shélah
FYI: This edition of the book actually has over 400 pages, Goodreads.

I didn’t feel this was a strong novel. I wanted to like it (truly), but I just couldn’t care. The characters were largely underdeveloped on the page, and the forward motion was jumpy and jarring. The set-up was also poor with no real conflict until 50 pages in. Additionally, people raving over Wright’s ability to write women well is exaggerated: any man can write women just as any woman can write men, and there was nothing asto
...more
Bonnie
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommended
Originally borrowed from the library. Loved the book so much, I bought my own copy. I'm not alone: it won 5 prizes, two of which were the GG's Award for Fiction & the Giller Prize. ...more
Roisin
Jan 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
I did enjoy this book. It was an easy, page turner that really didn't need any thinking about. Yet another book that I would never have picked up myself but was sent as a present.
However I really struggle to see what the author was trying to convey in the novel. In many ways it seems haphazard and completely lacking in direction. There is no build up and not really even a proper ending. I can see how this [and seemingly mundane details such as details of trips to the dentist] makes it all the mo
...more
Sara
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Much of this book is epistemological, but so well done that it adds to the flow and personality of the book. Both Clara and Nora are well drawn and believable and even though Clara react quite differently to the situations she finds herself in than I would think normal, we are given enough of her unique character to find the reactions consistent with who she is.

I didn't want to put this down until I reached the end. I was rooting for Clara all the way. Nothing pleases more than characters about
...more
Dzintra aka Ingrid
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
After the first few pages I was ready to give up on this one but kept reading and was totally engrossed! The book is made up of letters from one Sister to the other along with a few other people. Written from the 30’s through to 2000 this Award winning book became a page-turner for me!
Marlee Pinsker
May 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My library copy of Clara Callan came with the wavy pages of water damage and the cracked spine of heavy usage. While I read the book I felt I was sharing the experience with the people who had read it before me.

Since there are many summaries of the book already written I will skip going over the details and just say this:

A woman is raped, and that experience implies hurt, long lasting damage, and cries out for redress in some way. A pregnancy results. I was sad for her and quite anxious that she
...more
Jane
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was ok
Two decals on the cover, one for being a 2001 Giller Prize winner, and the other, for a Canada Council Governor General Award, I was certain this would be a book worth reading.

I am not sure what it takes to get a Giller Prize. Was it how the author dropped many Canadiana details into the story? Was it just a creative way to write a book, including only journal entries and letters?

It's not really a pleasant read, many difficult parts, so I began to think there would be a fantastic twist at the e
...more
The Reading Cove Book Club ❦
March 2020
232nd Cove Pick: CLARA CALLAN by Richard B. Wright
Chosen By: Jolene
Trivia Winner - Monica

We discuss the book in the 112th episode of our Cove Podcast - listen in and share your thoughts!

~COVE OPINION: C+, Above average story
...more
Sarah
Jul 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book started slow and I remember thinking “what is all the fuss about?” Boy, was I wrong! All of a sudden, I was hooked. What a memorable main character and a true story of strength.
Allegra
Jan 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-lit, canada-reads
"Clara Callan" by Richard B. Wright was a fantastic read for my recent trip to Whitehorse. I had been dying for some uninterrupted reading time for a while now, and it was the perfect length, (415 pages), to fly me to Vancouver, distract me through my 3 hour layover, then fly me to Whitehorse. No - I wasn't finished when I got there, but I was close, and that's because this Giller prize winner is hard to predict.



(I included the cover above that I wish I had for my book. Mine was unfortunately mo
...more
Faith_Bookluvr
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
4/10 - C

I typically like books written in letter or diary format but this just fell short for me. Just not my cup of tea I guess. The writing wasn’t bad but nothing about the story grabbed me.
Hilary G
Ex Bookworm group review:

I'm not sure whether I liked Clara Callan or not.

I quite like the episolatory novel - 84 Charing Cross Road is a great favourite from my soppy adolescence, and I have fond memories of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett, which I studied in school. I don't suppose you
could do it now, really, as all those exchanges would probably be done over the phone, hence Clara's objection to getting a phone? It would have made Richard B Wright's job a lot harder! I can't say I found t
...more
Pam
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
AUTHOR Wright, Richard B.
TITLE Clara Callan
DATE READ 03/01/20
RATING 4/B
FIRST SENTENCE
GENRE/ PUB DATE/PUBLISHER / # OF Fiction/2001/audio hoopla/8 hr 43 min
SERIES/STAND-ALONE SA
CHALLENGE Good Reads 2020 Reading Goal 37/120;
GROUP READ Reading Cove
TIME/PLACE 1930-40's/Toronto & NY
CHARACTERS sisters Clara & Nora
COMMENTS This is the story of two sisters. Their parents have passed and they don't seem to have any other relatives. Clara is a school teacher in her small town outside of Toronto. No
...more
EP
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm a bit puzzled at why this book is lauded in the manner it is. I've seen it referred to as a Canadian classic. It is an interesting book. The condition of women in the period leading to the Second World War was thoughtful but I didn't find this compelling in any way. ...more
Lori
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“I want so badly to help you realize, Elizabeth Ann, how difficult and puzzling and full of wonder it all is: some day I will tell you how I learned to watch the shifting light of autumn days or smelled the earth through snow in March; how one winter morning God vanished from my life and how one summer evening I sat in a Ferris wheel, looking down at a man who had hurt me badly; I will tell you how I once travelled to Rome and saw all the soldiers in that city of dead poets; I will tell you how ...more
Charli Winking
Apr 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book! Wright is really successful at writing in women's voices. The story of 3 single women during the 1930s leading very different lives: a single schoolteacher in small town Ontario, her sister a radio actress in NYC, and their friend a lesbian radio/movie writer in NYC and LA. It is a very interesting description of the lives of women in another time and the issues they dealt with-pregnancy, abortion, rape, careers, politics. I really enjoyed their journeys. ...more
Lucy Johnston
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There isn’t a lot of action in the plot, so I’m still trying to figure out why I couldn’t put it down. I think it’s because the characters are so great. They feel like real people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It could also be that I’m a sucker for letters! Either way, recommended.
Millie Vickers
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a fantastic book!
How a 64 year old man, in the year 2001 was able to authentically voice young women from the 1930s is nothing short of incredible. From a small-town spinster to a big city radio star and her witty lesbian friend, each one was absolutely believable as an actual historical figure. I loved this style of writing - reading letters and diary entries creates a real feeling of intimacy (or perhaps voyeurism?) minus one star because the ending, I didn’t love it.
Jayme
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I came across this book in a independent bookstore in NOTL. I’m not sure what compelled me to read it, but I’m glad I did. A story of two sisters during the 1930s, one living in small town Ontario and the other NYC. The back and forth between the two sisters made a good read.
Ann
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read this year. Love the historical background and the strong female characters. ...more
Despina
Nov 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I consider this novel a Canadian classic. I can't believe it took me this long to start this. A 2001 Giller Prize Winner. I like that it addresses so many topics for women, and in general, in the 1930s in small town Ontario that are still relevant today.
Highly recommend.
...more
Jenny
Apr 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I stumbled upon this book on a table of "prize winning novels" in the Princeton NJ public library. It had won several prestigious Canadian prizes for fiction. It's the story of two sisters in the 1930s. Clara, the central character, and older sister lives and teaches school in a small Ontario town. Her younger sister has moved to NYC, where she's a successful radio star. The story is told through letters that they exchange over the years and through letters between Clara and Evelyn, one of Nora' ...more
Louise
Mar 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Clara, a quiet woman, lives in the house she inherited from her father. A spinster school teacher who remains in her town of Whitfield. Her younger sister Nora sets off for New York to advance her career in radio.

For four years (1934-1938) Clara and Nora write letters to each other. For Clara, life is difficult being a single woman during the Depression and things are not easy. Clara has a very personal and dramatic incident which forces her to confront her new circumstances in a very direct man
...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life
Aug 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
5 STARS

"In a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for New York. It's a time when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and people escape from reality through radio and the movies. Meanwhile, the two sisters -- vastly different in personality, yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their places within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s.

While Nora embarks on a glamorous
...more
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Richard B. Wright was a Canadian novelist.

Born in Midland, Ontario, Wright attended Trent University, from which he graduated in 1970. He was the author of 13 published novels and two children's books. Many of his older novels were republished after his novel Clara Callan won three of Canada's major literary awards in 2001: the Giller Prize; the Trillium Book Award; and the Governor General's Awar
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“I want so badly to help you realize, Elizabeth Anne, how difficult and puzzling and full of wonder it all is: some day I will tell you how I learned to watch the shifting light of autumn days or smelled the earth through snow in March; how one winter morning God vanished from my life and how one summer evening I sat in a Ferris wheel, looking down on a man that hurt me badly; I will tell you how I once travelled to Rome and saw all the soldiers in that city of dead poets; I will tell you how I met your father outside a movie house in Toronto, and how you came to be. Perhaps that is where I will begin. On a winter afternoon when we turn the lights on early, or perhaps a summer day of leaves and sky, I will begin by conjugating the elemental verb. I am. You are. It is.” 6 likes
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