“Spin me back down the years and the days of my youth
Draw the lace and black curtains and shut out the whole truth
Spin me down the long ages: let them sing the song.” – Ian Anderson
Sylvia Drodge of St. John’s NL (the former Sylvia Bolfe-Carter of Ireland) has been temporarily relegated to a senior’s residence, thanks to failing eyesight and a fall that resulted in a fractured hip. But Sylvia still has her wits about her and is quite feisty with the staff. Only nurse Eleanor truly understands (or at least tolerates) Sylvia’s predicament. Her forced confinement “for rehabilitation and her own protection” weighs heavily on her and affronts her sense of dignity. She still retains much of her sense of entitlement as a descendant of Irish aristocracy and has a difficult time coping with life in modern times where class distinctions mean very little.
Thus begins Sylvia’s inward journey, as she spins us back down the years, from the wealth and position she once enjoyed in Ireland and how she gave it up for love and moved to Newfoundland where she is an outsider and who baulked at attempts by her husband and children to encourage her to accept the ways of a new country.
After her husband Jack suddenly dies, Sylvia is left with a teenage son and daughter, James and Claire, and a mountain of bills (which Jack always took care of) along with an inheritance of a small plumbing company started by Jack’s father. As this company is to be her sole source of income, she discerns that she must rise to the challenge and take the reigns of control, something unusual for a woman in the male-dominated business community of St. John’s at the time. With the encouragement of her bank manager, her son James and the unspoken support of her loyal dog Max, she is ready to take on a role she soon realises she is unequipped for.
Sylvia has many other hurdles to face over the years, including modernising the business, dealing with her children’s issues and coming to grips with her diminishing eyesight. Each time she must look within herself for the strength required to move forward.
Now in this special care home, practically blind and recuperating from a hip surgery, Sylvia must once more learn to adapt to the new circumstances she has been thrust into. “Whatever has become of Sylvia Bolfe-Carter?” she laments.
Sadly, The Inward Journey (2016, Breakwater Books) proved to be Ms Evan’s swan song, for she passed away on September 8th, 2016 at age 73. Perhaps knowing this fact influenced my outlook on this novel, but my notice was immediately taken by Ms Evan’s calm, graceful and eloquent writing style, which combined with a memoir-type narrative made The Inward Journey a book that has garnered itself a place on my 2017 Longlist for the “Very Best” Book Award for fiction.
Kate Evans (1943-2016) called St. John’s home, but she was born and raised in Ireland. She immigrated to Canada in 1967 and moved to Newfoundland in 1969. Her first novel, Where Old Ghosts Meet, was shortlisted for The Margaret and John Savage First Novel Award and for the APMA Best Atlantic Published Book Award.