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A Town Called Solace

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"I've been telling everyone I know about Mary Lawson . . . Each of her novels is just a marvel" —Anne Tyler

New York Times bestselling author Mary Lawson, acclaimed for digging into the "wilderness of the human heart", is back after almost a decade with a fresh and timely novel that is different in subject but just as emotional and atmospheric as her beloved earlier work.

A Town Called Solace , the brilliant and emotionally radiant new novel from Mary Lawson, her first in nearly a decade, opens on a family in crisis. Sixteen-year-old Rose is missing. Angry and rebellious, she had a row with her mother, stormed out of the house and simply disappeared. Left behind is seven-year-old Clara, Rose’s adoring little sister. Isolated by her parents’ efforts to protect her from the truth, Clara is bewildered and distraught. Her sole comfort is Moses, the cat next door, whom she is looking after for his elderly owner, Mrs. Orchard, who went into hospital weeks ago and has still not returned.

Enter Liam Kane, mid-thirties, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, who moves into Mrs. Orchard’s house—where, in Clara’s view, he emphatically does not belong. Within a matter of hours he receives a visit from the police. It seems he is suspected of a crime.

At the end of her life, Elizabeth Orchard is also thinking about a crime, one committed thirty years previously that had tragic consequences for two families, and in particular for one small child. She desperately wants to make amends before she dies.

Told through three distinct, compelling points of view, the novel cuts back and forth among these unforgettable characters to uncover the layers of grief, remorse, and love that connect them. A Town Called Solace is a masterful, suspenseful, darkly funny and deeply humane novel by one of our great storytellers.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2021

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About the author

Mary Lawson

23 books863 followers
Mary Lawson (born 1946) is a Canadian novelist.

Born in southwestern Ontario, she spent her childhood in Blackwell, Ontario (located between Sarnia and Brights Grove) and is a distant relative of L. M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables.

Lawson moved to England after graduating from McGill University with a psychology degree in 1968. She also married in Ontario, has two grown up sons and now lives in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey. Her three novels to date, both published by Knopf Canada were set in Northern Ontario.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,412 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,192 followers
March 11, 2021
Mary Lawson has been on my list of favorite writers ever since I read Crow Lake a number of years ago. I was compelled to read her other two novels and now this, her latest. In all of them she writes about families, sometimes in crisis, sometimes dysfunctional, always struggling, families who will move you. Her characters are so clearly and beautifully written, shaped by circumstances of their family situation, ones they don’t always have control over . She takes you to the towns she writes about and from the first pages, she invites you not just to visit, but to live there for a while. She takes you so easily into the minds and hearts of her characters and she allows you to know them, feel what they are feeling and to feel for them. By the end of her books, you don’t want to leave them behind.

In the 1970’s in a small town called Solace in Northern Ontario, Canada, we meet three characters who are connected to each other indelibly. In alternating chapters, with three points of view, it is in many ways a quiet story, my favorite kind. Seven year old Clara is smart and wise and sad, sweet with innocence and one of the most responsible children I know in books or in real life. Clara carries the burdens of loss and grief that are difficult even for adults to handle and I dare you not to be heartbroken for her. The kind Mrs.Orchard, Clara’s next door neighbor and friend speaks to her dead husband and lives with memories of a little boy she loved who once lived next door to them. As her story evolves, it’s a sad story of loss, that is tempered by the love she and her husband share. Liam, an unhappy man at a crossroads in his life has his own memories, mostly of a sad childhood, until some beautiful memories surface when he comes to Solace. Lawson beautifully portrays how these three characters touch each other lives in ways that are filled with love and care. I was once again moved by Lawson and I could not recommend her novels more.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,196 reviews3,036 followers
June 26, 2022
A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, Maggie Huculak (narrator), Tajja Isen (Narrator), Ian Lake (Narrator)

This story is told by three narrators. There is seven year old (soon to be eight!) Clara, who is taking care of her next door neighbor's cat, Moses. There is the neighbor, Mrs. Orchard, in her late seventies, who thought she was going for a brief stay in the hospital but was mistaken. And finally, there is thirty five year old Liam Kane, newly separated and just moving into Mrs. Orchard's house. Clara is appalled that a stranger would enter Mrs. Orchard's house and touch her things, even pack her things in a box. Even so, Clara still takes care of Moses, feeding him and spending time with him, when Liam is away from the house.

This is a tale of loss, grief, feelings of loneliness, remorse, and hope for what may not come. Clara's sixteen year old sister ran away from home and weeks later she's not come back. Clara eats all her meals in front of the windows of her house because she can't cease her constant vigil for her sister's return. Mrs. Orchard has long ago heartaches that will never wane but she also has her late husband with her in spirit. She also has a dear memory of a four year old boy that she took under her wing along ago and it's through him that she can do something that makes her heart ache a little less. Liam feels like such a failure, alone, friendless, worth nothing to no one and not able to see that ever changing.

These three come together in a way that shows that each person matters, even if their gifts aren't apparent to them without the help of the others. I loved little Clara, who was a suspicious thing even as a toddler. Mrs. Orchard loves kids and has known Clara all her life and she delights in the way Clara won't take anything at face value. It's no surprise that Clara has a lot of blunt questions for Liam and his presence in Moses' home and life. Poor Clara, her early suspicions seems to have foreshadowed that adults won't tell her anything. They won't tell her what happened to her sister, what happened to Mrs. Orchard, they are always "protecting", which seems to amount to just telling her lies. Liam doesn't know what to do with this girl in his house everyday but she helps him grow, just as Mrs. Orchard helps him grow. I wouldn't mind staying in this story for longer, I enjoyed being with all three of these characters.

Pub February 16, 2021 by Knopf Canada
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,443 reviews7,063 followers
February 27, 2021
Author, Mary Lawson, certainly has a knack that makes the mundane, unremarkable daily happenings, of small Canadian town Solace, appear much more interesting than it has any right to.

It’s 1972, and Clara’s 16 year old sister Rose has gone missing. Rose is quite rebellious, and a heated exchange took place between Rose and her mother - nothing new about that, and it wasn’t the first time Rose had left home, however, she’s usually back after a couple of days, just enough time to put her mother through the mill, cause her anxiety, this time though, she doesn’t come home - just as she’d promised she wouldn’t this time.

Clara is very astute for a seven year old child, good at assessing people and situations, and one of the people she assessed and loves, is her neighbour Mrs Orchard. The elderly lady has had to go into hospital, but she leaves Clara a house key, and asks her to feed her cat Moses, in her absence, and Clara takes her responsibilities very seriously, and besides, the familiarity of Mrs Orchard’s belongings reassured her that it would be just a matter of time before Mrs Orchard would be back home.

One day however, a strange man turns up at Mrs Orchard’s house and starts moving some of his things in. Clara is furious, how dare he! Besides it’s her job to feed Moses, and he’s a very nervous cat when it comes to strangers.

Liam Kane has been left the house by Mrs Orchard, and with his marriage all but finished, it gives him time to decide his next move. Clara doesn’t know yet that her neighbour has died, and sees Liam as an intruder, someone who has no right to try and take over Mrs Orchard’s home.

As we meet Elizabeth Orchard, she’s coming to the end of her life. Many years ago, Elizabeth made a mistake that had tragic consequences, and though she knows her days are numbered, she hopes she has enough time to make amends.

Clara, Liam, and Elizabeth’s lives, come together in love, grief and hope, as we the readers look on with a poignancy that tugs at the heart. Told from the POV of all three protagonists, it’s told beautifully!

* Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Vintage for an ARC in exchange for an honest unbiased review *
Profile Image for Tina.
540 reviews918 followers
December 8, 2021
I'm always so happy to find a wonderful Canadian author AND a great Canadian story! 🇨🇦

Why have I never read any of this author's previous books? Her prose is beautiful and the story captivating! Her characters and setting just come alive! The narrators of this Audiobook were absolutely amazing!

It's 1972 in a small town in Northern Ontario, Canada (and can I just say Mary Lawson captured the essence of this setting so well!) The story is told from 3 points of view. Clara, an almost 8 year old girl whose 16 year old sister has just run away from home, Liam a newly divorced man from Toronto who has just inherited a house up north, and Elizabeth (Mrs. Orchard) who is Clara's neighbour and is in hospital. Their stories all eventually intertwine. This was a delight to listen to and yet this is another book that I'm disappointed did not make any of the GoodReads Awards nominations. I will be looking into this author's backlist for sure!
April 30, 2022

In small town Solace, Ontario, in the 1970’s, eight-year-old Clara keeps a daily vigil at the window as she awaits her missing sister Rose’s return. Her neighbor, Mrs. Orchard (Elizabeth) is in the hospital and Clara’s job is to take care of her cat, Moses. Her suspicions are on high alert when she sees a man move into Elizabeth’s home.

Told through three points of view, I listened to this on audio and was moved by the excellent performances by the three narrators. As Elizabeth lays in her hospital bed, she sifts through her memories, “talking” to her dead husband Charles about their life together and the little neighbor boy, Liam, who had a difficult home life, and was once such an important part of her life. She hints at a devastating event from the past, one she feels she must atone for before she dies.

Clara’s spunk and curiosity was delightful, and even though her worries are more than she should bear at such a young age, she provides much needed lightness and humor to the story. The relationship she strikes up with Liam as she continues to care for Moses, was endearing. In the background, always, is the mystery of Rose's disappearance.

Liam is now 36, newly divorced, and had just quit his accountant job in the big city. He’s unhappy, unmoored, and at a crossroads in his life when he arrives in Solace to live in the house Elizabeth left him. As he was so very young when he lived across the street from Elizabeth, he has little memory of her and is unsure why she left him her house. I loved watching his transformation as he embeds himself in the life of the town.

I did want a bit more, which I suppose is better than wanting less. I wanted to hear from Liam’s mother, even if it had just been one chapter, and I wanted to know more about Rose. But those are minor complaints. The author beautifully captures small town life and the characters who inhabit the town. This is a quiet, lovely, and poignant look at lives that eventually intertwine in unexpected ways. Beautifully told, this is a deceptively simple story of flawed people (aren’t we all?) who live with regrets, and have known grief, but also joy. Solace is not just a town in Ontario, it’s what we can offer one another if we open our hearts. Highly recommended, this is a story that will touch your heart.

* this was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce. Do check out her review and see what she thought!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
May 27, 2021
3.5 Three main characters from three different stages of life. Clara is seven, her older sister has gone missing and Clara is very worried. Added to that Mrs. Orchard, the elderly lady has gone to the hospital, asking Clara to take care of her cat, Moses. When Clara sees a strange man in Mrs, Orchards house she thinks he is a thief. This bring us to Liam, a middle aged man who is in the midst of a divorce and has given up his job. His life is very unfocused at present. Mrs. Orchard is at the end of her life, living in past memories. It takes true talent to represent these characters, all of different ages, and make them come alive for the reader.

Lawson, as shown in previous books is at this a master. These characters are all facing difficult challenges and how they play out is the story. A captivating, easy flowing one at that. Friendship, family, caring, memories, comfort and redemption is at this books core, all things we all need and cherish or should. Sometimes what we are looking for it right under our noses, but takes a while to see. Hopefully mistakes are recognized before they can cause future regrets.

A wonderful book, in which the best of human nature shines. It's not all brightness, there are traumatic moments, but there are people who care enough to attempt to provide a soft landing. An immersive story and if there is a town called Solace, this story is emblematic of its name. The cover is gorgeous as well. Another hit by Lawson whose books I just love.

The ending was purrrrfect.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
March 10, 2021
This quiet beautifully written novel is an introspective journey. It’s deeply personal....
with a handful of characters that have been psychologically damaged.

“A Town Called Solace” was thought-provoking ...
with gorgeous prose and dialogue that put you in the same room with the characters.

You know a novel is good, when you want to read everything else the author has written.....and I do.

I’ll leave one excerpt....
“I have spent half my life trying to suppress that memory. When I was in St. Thomas’s, the psychiatrist, Dr. Leander, said that whenever it or something similarly disturbing came into my mind I was to replace it, calmly but firmly, with something positive. He said we were all able to control our thoughts to some extent. At first I didn’t believe him, I didn’t see how it could be possible to simply push side such anguish, but actually, with practice, it was. Some of the time, at least”.

Raw.... and unfiltered with truth.

Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,166 followers
August 16, 2021
Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize

A Book Called Somnolence…

Solace is a tiny (fictional) town in chilly Northern Ontario and the setting for this quiet novel of second chances. It is a story full of warmth and familiar tropes—the city slicker arriving in town as a fish out of water, fixing up an old rundown house, gradually being accepted by the locals; a small girl whose world is upended when her teenage sister runs away; the common link between these two an elderly neighbour who has recently passed.

This is a nice book full of nice people. Stock characters, predictable plot developments, simple, easy to read prose, good pie and bad coffee. I can see how, in a certain kind of mood, this might be a comforting read, but I found it trite and dull.

The most interesting aspect of the novel involves one woman’s unhealthy obsession with her neighbour’s child. Unfortunately, this wasn’t well-developed and played into some nasty stereotypes about infertile women. And by the time the storyline is fully unspooled… well let’s just say it left me feeling like the entire premise of the novel was one big plot hole.

A Town Called Solace is longlisted for the Booker Prize and I can only surmise that this is an attempt to bring some attention to a late-career midlist author, rather than a ringing endorsement of this particular novel. A sweet but rather forgettable read.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
May 1, 2022
Offering solace.....how many places or people offer you solace. Maybe it's a walk in the woods, a day at the beach, or just sitting in your yard listening to the sounds of life. Perhaps it is a person who makes you feel whole, a person who makes you feel relaxed and make the trials of today leave you for just a bit of time.

There is not much solace in a family living in the town of Solace. Their oldest daughter, Rose has gone missing and everyone is fearful and her younger sister, Clara, keeps a watchful eye for her return. Then in moves Liam Kane into the house next door. Liam is a quiet man, unemployed, sort of shiftless, and Clara's senses are on high alert. This house belongs to Clara's great elderly friend, Mrs. Orchard, and Clara has agreed to take care of her cat, Moses. Mrs. Orchard is in the hospital so Clara is very attuned to what is going on next door.

As the story progresses, we learn more about Liam and Mrs. Orchard and a former loving relationship they once had.(although Liam doesn't remember) It is a tender story as Mrs. Orchard destined to remain childless forms a parental type relationship with Liam. She is so drawn to him, a little boy who seems to not be able to find his way in a house full of sisters and a mother at the end of her rope. When Mrs. Orchard makes a snap decision about Liam; their lives will change and the solace they found in one another will end.

Clara is the joining thread that keeps the modern-day story going as she tries to form a friendship with Liam and pray for the return of her sister. Clara does find solace in Liam's company and he is hers, and yet he is a drifter and his footing is always shaky.

How Liam comes to stay in Mrs. Orchard's house forms a tender link in the tale. The one drawback I found in the telling was that there was so much untold. It's always hard to determine a point of view from characters (Liam's mother for example who doesn't contribute her feelings). All in all, though, the writing in lovely portraying that love comes in various forms and can wrap you in a veil of happiness, of contentment and yes, solace as well. Life can and does go on in a circular manner often leading one to a starting place to a road walked into adulthood.

Jan and I enjoyed this story which we listened to. The audio book was done so well it made the listening journey a pleasure and delight. Definitely recommend this book for a trip down a lane many of us have traveled.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,393 reviews805 followers
July 4, 2021
I listened to the audio of “A Town Called Solace” by Mary Lawson. This is a slow burn of a story, culminating into a satisfying suspenseful drama. The narrators, Maggie Huculak, Tajja Isen, and Ian Lake are fantastic.

The story is told from three-character points of view. Clara, 7 years old, is a dutiful cat sitter who begins the story staring out her front window, watching her neighbor, Mrs. Orchard’s, home. Clara’s teenage sister Rose has just ran away, and Clara feels that she needs to keep her vigilance of the neighbor’s home to assure Rose’s safe return.

Mrs. Orchard, aka Elizabeth, is in the hospital with a heart condition. Her narrations are thoughts to her deceased husband. Through Elizabeth, we learn why she left her home to Liam, the third character. We also learn of Elizabeth’s past and what she feels she needed to atone for.

Liam is a character who the reader can’t help but feel sympathetic towards. His life, especially his youthful homelife is tragic. He most certainly received the worst mother possible. He isn’t sure why Mrs. Orchard left him her home, but we find out through Elizabeth’s chapters.

Clara is the needed innocent in the story, providing some humor through her earnest antics. She takes watching Mrs. Orchard’s home very seriously. Other minor characters add to the amusement, although quiet amusement. Lawson deftly adds those moments to what could have been a fully maudlin and tragic story. My heart broke many times for both Liam and Elizabeth. Clara provided hope.

The characters in this story are realistic and human. At the beginning of the story, I thought it was an average read. In the middle, I was dumbstruck in my emotional attachment. At the end, I wanted to take another look and review how the story began and edged its way into my heart.

Author Mary Lawson is noted for writing emotionally moving stories taking place in her beloved Canada. This is one that will stick with me. Another shout-out to Goodreads friend Holly who gave this a stellar review which drew my interest.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews690 followers
September 21, 2022
Liam, 35 years old, recently divorced, unhappy and at a loss about how and where he wants to go on with his life.  Clara is a little girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Fingernails bitten down to the quick, sad and lonely.  Elizabeth, the elderly neighbor of Clara's, in the hospital for a short stay that turns lengthy.  What could they possibly have in common?

A quiet story of love and loss, terrible disappointments, things remembered, finding your way in life.  Expertly spun as only Mary Lawson can.  Where will I go for solace now that the last page has been turned?  The only thing wrong with this author's books is that there are only four of them.  More's the pity.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
March 6, 2021
I love Mary Lawson's writing and story telling. She knows how to tug at my heartstrings without leaving me feeling manipulated. A Town Called Solace in no exception. Set in the early 1970s, in a small town in northern Ontario, this is a beautiful story -- full of sadness, things left unsaid, people trying to be kind and people trapped by the limits of their own personalities and circumstances. The story is told from three points of view. Clara is seven years old and is worried about her sister Rose's recent disappearance. Elizabeth, Clara's neighbour, tells her story from her hospital bed as she lies dying. Liam moves into Elizabeth's house, with his own complicated baggage. There's a beautiful symmetry in the connection between these three characters. The story telling is low key but the emotions are intense. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,075 followers
March 14, 2021
Reading Mary Lawson, I disappear into her characters and locales so deeply that when I look up from the book, I am always a little shocked at where I am. Are those my things? Oh yes, that’s my art on the walls, I’m lying on my couch. But I could have sworn I was in Northern Ontario having the experience of the people she writes so truthfully that they become me, or I them. I really can’t articulate it except to say I’m blubbery with admiration.

A Town Called Solace, like her other books, is about family relationships. And even though it doesn’t delve into themes I’d call “Shakespearean” because of their complexity and universal truths—themes of her earlier books, Crow Lake , Road Ends , and The Other Side of the Bridge —it is no less affecting.

Her dialog is so good it could easily translate to theater (this play could effortlessly be staged—part reader’s theater and part regular theater). Her transitions from first-person chapters to third are natural and effortless. Mary Lawson, a quietly brilliant creator, is one of my favorite writers. I will read anything she writes and hope she produces another book while I’m still in a body to savor it.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
781 reviews61 followers
November 13, 2022
4.5 Stars

Mary Lawson is a go to author for me. She never disappoints. Within the first chapter, I was invested in this story. Her writing is smooth and flowing, not overwrought with too much description. Her strengths are her characters and her dialogue.
In this novel, we get three view points:
Elizabeth Orchard- she is in the hospital. She often talks to her dead husband and she is reflecting back on a decision that changed their lives.
Clara- an almost 8 year old whose family is going through a crisis. Her sister, Rose, has run away and has not returned. She lives next door to Mrs. Orchard.
Liam- A young man who shows up at Elizabeth Orchard’s home, going through difficulties of his own

This book is about family and found family. It is about small town Solace, where everyone seems to know everyone’s business.This is a character driven novel (my favourites)that left me feeling like these people had become a part of my life. The town is indelibly printed on my mind. For a short while, they were part of my world.

I loved how it ended but at the same time I was sad to leave them all behind.

Published: 2021
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,322 reviews2,142 followers
December 21, 2021
This is a beautiful book told from the points of view of three main characters, Clare, Elizabeth and Liam. Clare is just seven years old, her older sister has disappeared, her parents are grieving and the bottom has dropped out of her world. Elizabeth is Clare's neighbour and she is suffering heart failure. When she is hospitalised she asks Clare to look after her cat, Moses, and gives her a key to the house. Clare takes her responsibility very seriously so when Liam moves in next door she has no idea what to do except look after Moses and Elizabeth's possessions as best she can.

The story is gentle and quiet with moments of tension and also humour. I have not previously read a book by this author but I enjoyed her writing style very much and plan to look out for more of her work. All of her characters are delightful especially Liam and Clare who do eventually meet and develop a lovely relationship.

Everything builds to an emotional finish though Moses has the last word. A very pleasurable read.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,589 reviews2,810 followers
August 2, 2021
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021
Mary Lawson gives a lesson in how to craft a story told from three perspectives that also jumps between timelines - when such a grifted and controlled writer does it, it feels completely effortless. Set in a small town North Ontario in 1972, we first meet seven-year-old Clara whose elder sister has run away; then there's her elderly, frail neighbour Mrs Orchard, who is currently in the hospital; and the last perspective is that of Liam, an accountant in his thirties who lived next to Mrs Orchard when he was a small boy. Of course, they all are connected - but the question how exactly is what drives the narrative, so I won't spoil it. Suffice to say that all characters are drawn with great empathy, their trials and tribulations are portrayed in a convincing and touching manner (especially when it comes to Clara who struggles with the world of the grown-ups around her). All storylines center on love, loss, and longing.

Lawson has complete control over her material and does a great job displaying human emotions in a calm, but intense manner - the comparisons to Anne Tyler are fully justified. But is this Booker material? It's a timeless piece, told in a traditional manner, and there's nothing wrong with that per se, but if the Booker wants to highlight timely material and cutting-edge literary aesthetics, this is not the novel to point out. My guess it that it will be a puzzle piece in a diverse array of texts that the judges want to present this year.

Let's find out and tackle the rest of the longlistees!
Profile Image for Doug.
2,042 reviews742 followers
July 29, 2021
In a bit of a quandary on rating this, since I would never have heard of this book, nor been even slightly tempted to read it, had it not been for its Booker longlisting. I wouldn't designate it really as 'literary fiction', and it surely doesn't qualify as one of the 13 best books of the year - but it IS an extremely well-written and beguiling book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite such trepidations. Although initially I intended to give it 3, or maybe 3.5 stars, the fact I liked it so much bumped it up to a full 4, Booker be damned.

On degree of difficulty alone, it merits consideration, since Lawson flawlessly handles three very different narrative voices with aplomb, as well as juggling several different timelines. I doubt this will make the short list, and would be shocked if it won - but can't say I'm sorry in the least that I read it - and am even interested in checking out Lawson's backlist, especially her other Booker nominated tome.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
890 reviews305 followers
December 12, 2021
What a captivating tale!
I loved the writing and all characters.
I also enjoyed how well the author was able to evoke the atmosphere of a small town and its region (Northern Ontario).
The development of the storyline is slow but at the same time very engaging. It’s skillfully written and it gives us 3 distinct alternating narrators. This is a character’s study of how life in a small town and the disappearance of a teenager affect 3 interconnected people.
The ending was very touching.
Although I truly enjoyed this book, I do think that it’s too light to be considered for the Broker Prize.
I listened to the audiobook, which also has 3 different narrators who did an amazing job. This was the first audiobook that I did not feel the need to increase the speed.
I’m looking forward to reading this author’s first book, Crow Lake (2002).
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,820 reviews1,379 followers
September 5, 2021
Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize.


This book set in the ficitional town of Solace in Northern Ontario in 1972.

It is a book with a strong sense of place – in a small, remote and very much enclosed community – one very different from anything I have experienced or will experience

Better stop dreaming of the quiet life, 'cause it's the one we'll never know

The book opens in the third person voice of a introverted seven year old girl Clare, with what seems to be increasingly autistic tendencies exacerbated by the tension she is facing making her something of an outsider at school

Playground kids and creaking swings

Her popular but volatile sixteen year old sister has run-way from home after one of a series of rows with their mother – and has not been heard from for several weeks

And quit running for the runaway bus

The sister is called Rose – and her mother regrets the harsh words she exchanged with her in a life together which now seems too brief

'cause those Rose-y days are few

Her father was very much a peacemaker which only served to antagonise his wife

And stop apologizing for the things you've never done

Clara is looking after the neighbour’s cat – an elderly 72 years old lady (born at the turn of the century) – Elizabeth – who has gone to hospital for what she told Clare would be a short stay, but is already stretching out longer than either expected. She is our second narrator (on an almost but not quite contemporaneous timeline with the other two).

In hospital she talks in her head to her beloved now-dead husband and in her head reminisces about events in their life.

They were childless (she having suffered many miscarriages) which leaves her with a profound sense of isolation and emptiness

And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts

And starts to suck the joy out of her marriage

Lost laughter in the breeze

But for a brief period in her life she found profound joy in the shape of a young boy – one of three (and then five) children of her neighbour – seen by his mother (whose other children were girls) as unmanageable – and for whom she became a de facto carer (the young boy even living with her for parents). For reasons darkly hinted at the two lost contact for years but then resumed it after she reached out to him after he husband’s death and the correspondence the two then had is now, together with memories of her husband, sustaining her as she approaches the end of her life.

Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry

The book opens with Clara both confused and horrified when a man comes to Elizabeth’s house and makes himself at home. That man is Liam and he is our third narrator – and we quickly realise was the boy that Elizabeth was fond of and that she made him her heir and, while she is still alive, gifted her house.

Liam’s own marriage – which started promisingly – has disintegrated over time

Struggle after struggle, year after year

His wife accusing him of being unable to truly love and attach – something he knows has been true his entire life – stemming from rejection from his mother in his childhood which has lead to him lacking an ability for emotional engagement in his heart

I'm almost stone cold dead

Quitting his job also he is unsure of his aim in life

It's at the moment bound for nowhere
Just going round and round

And so has decided to move to Solace – with an aim to gather his thoughts, sell the property and move out before the harsh winter

The atmosphere's a fine blend of ice

Over time Clara begins to realise that the situation with Elizabeth is much worse than her parents have told her – and by extension becomes increasingly emotional as she realises that the same may be true of their reassurances about Rose and so starts to lose faith in them

It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come fast and furious

It’s a long book

I could go on for hours and I probably will

But ultimately it is a book which has at its heart many difficult but all too common life-stories (childlessness, end of life incapacity and terror, bereavement, broken relationships, divorce, missing children)

'Cause time is short and life is cruel

But which, particularly perhaps in the character of Liam sets out the possibility of repentance and redemption

but it's up to us to change

and so ends on a very uplifting and hopeful note

But I'd sooner put some joy back
In this Town Called Solace


With thanks to Paul Weller
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
521 reviews418 followers
August 16, 2021
FINAL REVIEW: I’m laughing. I’m laughing because I already know that I’m not going to be able to convince anyone to pick up this book unless they already had a mild interest in it. But here we go.

You got me, Mary Lawson. You really got me. In A TOWN CALLED SOLACE, we’re introduced to seven-year-old Clara, whose rebellious teenage sister has gone missing. While Clara takes vigil at the front window, awaiting her sister’s safe return, a mysterious man moves into the house next door. From that synopsis, you probably think you can figure out where the story is heading. You don’t. Then again, with this premise, you’ll be forgiven for thinking this novel is aiming to be a thriller or a whodunit or any genre along those lines. Instead, this is an intimate character-driven story using the backdrop of a mystery in a small town to explore heavy themes such as grief, loss, fragility, vulnerability, crime, and parenting. As for that last one, parenting plays a huge role throughout this narrative, even in the side plots. I guess I should’ve mentioned that this story is told through three separate perspectives and in three timelines. Yup, three character voices, three timelines, and all three work. There’s a driving element in each one that makes you want to dive deeper and turn the pages, because ultimately that is what this book is designed to do. Didn’t I just say it was an intimate character study? My, my, aren’t I full of contradictions?

But to further delve into the theme of parenting, the questions of “why do we have children?”, “what do we make of children?” and “how do children fit into our lives?” are ponderings that trickle across the entire spectrum of this novel. This is especially prevalent in a particular storyline which involves a character named Elizabeth, and let’s just say that this storyline did not sit well with several readers. But for this reader right here, it was the perspective that worked best for me, the one that was the most successful and convincing. Sure, this development/reveal/action could be seen as a bit cliché and maybe even derivative, but Lawson sold the hell out of it for me; this character was deeply flawed and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this perspective is the only one told in first person. It’s unreliable at best, completely skewed at worst. The way Elizabeth spent time judging another character made me really wonder if what I was reading was the truth or was it a justification for her actions, therefore that storyline is somewhat of a lie? Anyway, let’s not get into it. Read the book first, then we’ll talk. Here’s the thing with Lawson’s writing, she takes familiar storylines (or tropes, if you insist on calling it that) and injects something so helplessly beautiful and masterful into it. Maybe you think you’ve read this story before, but so what? You haven’t read it like this, have you? One of the most fascinating aspects of this novel is that if you really take a step back, it’s a very dark little thing. The way the core storyline is resolved is unbelievably messed up, and in the hands of another writer, it would’ve been marred in misery. But here, Lawson treats it just like the rest of the slice of life aspects of her book. It isn’t given a narrative centerpiece, it isn’t given an arresting finish. In a way, Lawson is trying to convey that this too is part of life. Life comes with the good, the bad and the oh-so-ugly. You gotta roll with the punches. Unfortunately.

I loved this. Not sorry about it. It’s not the type of book that comes to mind when we think of the Booker. And unfortunately its placement on the longlist is going to have it eyed with a much harsher lens. But I’ll go out and be its cheerleader. It’s a deceptively simple story told wonderfully, and with lots of care. There were a few moments that were really quite wondrously beautiful (a pyjama pants pocket comes to mind). I adore.

Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
632 reviews349 followers
May 28, 2021
3 🍦🍦🍦
Rating three stars on GR I need a disclaimer. Readers will comment Sorry this didn’t work for you or Better luck with the next one. Many reviewers give three to books they did not like at all. On this platform it signals 😑.
I go with the stars defined as ★★★= I liked it, but often I don’t have much to say about it (our buddy read thread was quite lean), and won’t remember it, but three stars can be a nice respite during certain times and slumps, like now.

I was wowed by all of Lawson’s previous books. Many reviews mention Curling up with this cozy feel good read and I agree. But after waiting 8 years between her books, I was definitely underwhelmed. The title is the spoiler because in this story you will find solace. It makes no demands on the reader. It won’t take you to the woodshed as some do. It’s a nice story, sentimental but not sappy, a reduced calorie version of a Lawson. I agree with friends about the last lines though I thought the denouement a bit rushed with undeveloped potential. Still, it left me with a smile and I’ll take those any day. Now, please pass the ice cream, hammer, and chisel.
Profile Image for David.
296 reviews753 followers
August 12, 2021
A Town Called Solace is a bittersweet book, set in a small town in Northern Ontario in 1972. We follow three alternating narrators as they share complementary perspectives on a tale that involves a missing sister and a childless couples who fell in love with a boy they could not adopt as a son. The plot itself does not have a payoff that matches the building drama, but the emotional notes are spot on.
Profile Image for Carol.
368 reviews353 followers
October 10, 2022
***3.5 Stars***
I love this author's novels...especially my favorite, Crow Lake, so maybe my expectations were set too high for this one. I still enjoyed this sentimental story and I look forward to any novel written by this wonderful author.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
613 reviews4,994 followers
December 23, 2021
This is the epitome of comfort fiction. We follow three characters in a sleepy town in Northern Ontario town whose lives overlap casually, but who go on to have major impacts on one another. Elizabeth Orchard is an elderly woman who needs to go to the hospital for what she thinks will be a brief period. While she's away, she entrusts school-aged Clara to feed the housecat, Moses, a ritual that the young girl comes to cherish since her teenage older sister has run away, plunging her house into crisis. So little Clara is alarmed when a random man comes to stay at Mrs. Orchard's house. His name is Liam and he has a history with Mrs. Orchard, but one that is slowly revealed to the reader over the course of this book.

This is not a flashy book. Its writing isn't complex nor is its plot complicated. But the story and the characters were clearly well thought-through and the whole book is handled with love. If you want to get cozy in a small town and grow to love three very special characters, this one will be right up your alley.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,298 reviews450 followers
September 10, 2022
My respect for Mary Lawson grows with every book she writes. Sadly, I have finished the four she's written so far, and will have to wait impatiently for the next one.

Here, in the Northern Ontario town of Solace, which is barely a town at all, we hear from Clara, an eight year old whose 16 year old sister has run away. She refuses to leave the window facing the road, thinking that her vigil will somehow bring her sister back. Elizabeth lives next door, a 72 year old widow who is in the hospital for a few weeks, asking Clara to feed her cat while she's gone. Then Liam shows up with the keys to Elizabeth's house, and moves in with 4 big boxes. Who is he, and why doesn't Elizabeth come home?

This is the setting for a book exploring connections between people, half buried memories, loneliness, heartbreak and peripheral characters that you come to love. Lawson even made me love the nurse that was taking care of Elizabeth in the hospital, even though she just flitted in and out occasionally. These people are real, and kudos to the author for portraying an 8 year old girl who is not exceptional in any way, but is dealing with the confusing world of adults who won't tell her the truth in an effort to protect her. Clara made me clutch my heart more than once.

It's a very soothing book to read, in spite of the mystery and drama in parts of it. As you can tell, I loved it, and am sorry it ended.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,188 reviews1,690 followers
February 19, 2021

Mary Lawson might as well have titled her new book A PLACE called solace because in these challenging times, her story transports the reader to a more redemptive place.

That isn’t to say that the book is a sunny read. Set in remote Northern Ontario in 1972, it is narrated by three characters. Seven-year-old Clara is alienated and mourning her missing teenage sister and finds solace in caring for the cat of her elderly neighbor who is in the hospital. That neighbor, Mrs. Orchard, harbors a secret from her past and is trying to make late-life amends. The third person, Liam, is emotionally stunted for reasons he doesn’t quite understand, and is inexplicably given the house by Mrs. Orchard.

Slowly but surely, the reader comes to understand what bonds these three disparate characters together as integrated layers of grief, regrets and flashes of understanding pull them forward. At one point, Liam questions, “How do you know another person’s mind? How do you know your own?” Although no person gets full clarity on those questions, the characters get a little closer to the answers.

Interestingly, Anne Tyler blurbs the cover, writing, “I’ve been trying to tell everybody I know about Mary Lawson. Each of her novels is just a marvel.” I definitely see commonalities between the two writers: the ability to dive deep into the psyche of imperfect people, preserving their respect and dignity while getting readers to nod self-knowingly in acknowledgement of their foibles. While A Town Called Solace doesn’t have the all-encompassing sense of place of my favorite Mary Lawson novel, Crow’s Lake, it is still a rewarding read that offers up people I truly cared about. 4.5 stars.

Profile Image for Peter.
503 reviews609 followers
May 16, 2021
This slice of small-town Ontario life is told from three points of view. First we have Clara, an anxious seven-year-old whose elder sister Rose has run away from home. Then there's Mrs Orchard, their next-door neighbour, who is currently in hospital. Clara is looking after her cat Moses while she recuperates. And last of all there is Liam, a man in his thirties who knew Mrs Orchard when he was a small boy. These days he's an accountant in Toronto, but he has kept in touch with his old friend in the last few years. Why he appears at her house is a mystery to Clara, but it will soon become clear. Mrs Orchard remembers the happy time they spent together when he was little, though there are also hints at an incident that she regrets. Liam looks through her keepsakes on his visit and the memories come flooding back.

Some reviews have compared this book to the work of Anne Tyler, and I can see why. The plot is not hugely important, it's more a study of some fascinating, lifelike characters. The mysterious link between Mrs Orchard and Liam is teased out over the course of the story. Their interior lives are rendered so vividly as to make them seem real. Recollections of happiness and regret, the events that have shaped them into the people they are today are all conjured with true depth and meaning. I also liked the evocation of rural Canadian life in 1972 - a slower pace, not without its own problems, but with a sense of community that a lonely, broken Liam comes to admire. It's a gentle, introspective story told with real elegance and warmth. I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,669 reviews2,659 followers
February 26, 2021
I discovered Mary Lawson in 2015 with Road Ends and caught up with Crow Lake in the summer of 2019. All four of her books are set in fictional locations inspired by the villages and rural areas of Northern Ontario, where the author grew up before moving to England in 1968. So Solace, while not a real town, is true to her memory and, despite the sometimes gruff or know-it-all locals, an emotional landmark for the three central characters, all of whom are processing trauma and looking for places of comfort where they can start over.

1972. First we meet Clara, a plucky seven-year-old sitting vigil. She’s waiting for the return of two people: her sixteen-year-old sister, Rose, who ran away from home; and their next-door neighbour, Mrs. Orchard, whose cat, Moses, she’s feeding until the old lady gets back from the hospital. As days turn into weeks, though, it seems less likely that either will come home, and one day Clara sees a strange man moving boxes around in Mrs. Orchard’s house. This is Liam Kane, who’s inherited the house from a family friend. In his thirties and recently divorced, he’s taking a break in this tiny town, never imagining that he might find a new life. The third protagonist, and only first-person narrator, is Elizabeth, who lies in a hospital bed with heart trouble and voices her memories as a monologue to her late husband.

As we cycle through these three characters’ perspectives in alternating chapters, we gradually come to understand the connections between them. There are satisfying parallels in that, on multiple occasions but in slightly different ways, a child attaches to an older person or an adult stands in as a guardian for a neglected child. All of Lawson’s creations, even the secondary figures, are dealing with distressing memories or a loss of some kind, the details of which might only emerge much later on. Solace offers myriad opportunities for recovery, whether kitty playtime at Mrs. Orchard’s or diner food and homemade ice cream.

Like Lawson’s other works, this is a slow burner featuring troubled families. Her characters, often full of regret and sorrow, take a shadowy past as a prompt to reset their lives. They’re charming in spite of their flaws. I recalled that Crow Lake also looks back to the climactic happenings experienced by a seven-year-old girl. And like Road Ends, A Town Called Solace makes a convincing case for present decisions being influenced by historical trauma. It’s a tender and inviting story I’d recommend to readers of Wendy McGrath and Anne Tyler, with Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout as specific readalikes. (My dilemma now is whether to read my only remaining Lawson novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, right away or save it: she’s not the most prolific author, with four books in 19 years.)

A favorite passage:
[Liam’s] life prior to coming north seemed to be taking on the quality of an old movie, one in which he’d been deeply engrossed while watching it but which now seemed trivial, unconvincing and profoundly lacking in either colour or plot. Solace had colour and plot in spades, maybe too much. In every way it was coming to seem more real than Toronto, with its endless malls and traffic jams and high-powered jobs. Though maybe, if he went back to Toronto, the same would be true in reverse. Maybe when he’d been back for a couple of months he’d find that it was Solace that seemed unreal, its unremarkable streets and stores like something from a dream, its dramatic landscape fading to nothing, like a holiday photo left in the sun.

Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,081 reviews918 followers
October 2, 2021
This was my first Mary Lawson novel. I had added it to my TBR before it was longlisted to the Booker, which is a perplexing nomination if you ask me, but that's not on the author.

A Town Called Solace takes place in Solace, a small fictional town in Northern Ontario, Canada, in the 1970s. Three characters give us their perspectives. The youngest is seven year old Clara, whose teenage sister left home to spite her parents and now everyone is worried for her safety. Liam, a man in his thirties, recently divorced, takes residence in the house across from Clara's, the house Mrs Orchard lives in. Clara has been feeding her cat while Mrs Orchard was in the hospital. The third perspective is that of Mrs Orchard and it's about her connection with Liam and her life in Solace with her husband.

This is a novel about simple people living their lives in a small town. Everyone knows everyone's business, but most people are kind.

It was a nice enough story, albeit not that exciting or affecting. Something was missing.
Profile Image for Karine.
164 reviews55 followers
April 7, 2022
A nicely threaded plot, around three main characters. First there is Elizabeth, now resting on her hospital bed and making the inventory of her life, strengthened by the fond memories of her departed husband. Then there is Liam, whom was her neighbor kid when he was little, always coming around in search of kindness, attention and love, which he didn't receive from his own parents. In the present (which is in the 70's), he is now the neighbor of Clara, a 8 year old girl whose rebellious teenage sister just disappeared.

This character driven book has little plot, and if anything it is escapism at its best. There is the quaint little village, with its charming inhabitants. And Liam who is at a crossroad in life after he left his wife and job, conveniently inherits some money and a house to start over. This syrupy affair is slightly counterbalanced by the disappearance of Rose, but just not enough to be honest. But what I really found interesting is the fact that all three are battling mental illness, and that has been rendered beautifully and on point.

All in all, a very well written book with a nice flow and interesting characters, but just a little too simple and lacking depth and insights, hence the 4 stars.
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