A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson reviewed

A Town Called Solace Book Cover A Town Called Solace
Mary Lawson
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
February 18, 2021

It’s North Ontario in 1972, and seven-year-old Clara’s teenage sister Rose has just run away from home. At the same time, a strange man – Liam – drives up to the house next door, which he has just inherited from Mrs Orchard, a kindly old woman who was friendly to Clara and relied on the girl to feed her cat Moses.

Before the Snow follows Clara and her fractured family - a sister who is missing and parents who won’t ever tell her the truth; Liam’s escape from a mid-life crisis in this crumbling house which he was given unexpectedly by a woman he hasn’t seen since he was five; and Mrs Orchards’ final days in hospital, as her memories spiral back to the real mystery at the heart of this novel – what happened between her and Liam so many years ago.

As these characters, who lives are joined by fate in ways they don't yet understand, reckon with personal crises and tragic pasts, we see that change and, for some, a new life is possible. By turns gripping and heart-warming, Before the Snow carefully uncovers the layers of grief, remorse and love that connect families, both the ones we're born into and the ones we choose, and steadily builds towards an assured, affecting and uplifting ending. It’s a beautiful portrait of a small town, a little girl and an exploration of childhood.

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

I found this started well in small town Canada 1972. Clara is at home looking out of the window waiting for her sister Rose to come back. A stranger arrives at the next door house where Clara has been feeding the cat while the neighbour was in hospital. Nothing dramatic but nicely set up and it got my interest.

In fact A Town Called Solace really is a story that focusses on just three main characters. Clara who feeds the neighbour’s cat, waits for her sister’s return and puzzles over the newcomer. Liam who is the newcomer – why is he here. Elizabeth the cat owner from next door. What are the links between these three and who else do they have in their lives? The story reveals the past and tells of the present quite steadily. Long kept secrets emerge too. There are truths, lies and loves in this moving and powerful story about families and lives.

I found each of the main characters interesting and convincing in their own way. I sometimes get some way through a book and wonder “who is this person?” – that never happened in this book. While you could argue that with only 3 characters that is not surprising that would not be fair to the rest of the cast here. There are the people in the town, those who are in the past and those that we never really meet but who are part of this story. Even Moses – just the cat – has his part to play and is well written. Almost all of them have stayed with me and – like the town, Solace – are quite clear in my mind.

The more I read of this the easier I found it to keep reading rather than to put it down. Does anything much happen during the course of this story? Well I guess you need to define “much” and in some senses things do happen and secrets are revealed. This story is emotional sometimes and warm with humanity and humour at others. At times this is a “gentle” book but equally the truth can be hard to bear. What I did find it was enormously satisfying and it has a beauty in the story telling. Before I even finished it I had bought an earlier book of Mary Lawson’s and I certainly want to read more by this author. A Town Called Solace is one of those stories that will stay with me for quite some time.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review