A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

There are many books that are filled with long ruminations about what it means to be alive. Some contain complex phrases and challenging prose, making it feel as if the words themselves are as heavy as the ideas they convey. And then there are books that cover deep, thought-provoking themes that are as light as air. A Town Called Solace is the latter. Expertly told from three captivating points of view, Mary Lawson takes us to Solace, a fictional town in northern Ontario, to explore themes of redemption, grief, and loss.  

Elizabeth Orchard is spending her final days in a hospital bed, reflecting on a life that careened wildly off course several years before. As she comes to understand she will not be going home, seven-year-old Clara is caring for Elizabeth’s cat, certain that her kind, elderly neighbour will be back any day. While Clara diligently cares for the skittish cat, she is facing her own personal trauma. Her sixteen-year-old sister has gone missing, and her parents are barely holding themselves together. She finds comfort in the familiarity of Elizabeth’s home while performing rituals to ensure her sister’s safe return. And then Liam Kane comes to Solace. A man in his mid-thirties, he takes possession of Elizabeth Orchard’s house as he tries to understand the unravelling of his marriage and a childhood that left lasting wounds.   

“You know when you throw a log on a bonfire how there is a fleeting rush of tiny sparks? Not the ones that soar joyously up towards the heavens but the tiny ones that spring up and die almost instantaneously? That was my life measured against the stars, my love. Gone instantaneously. Over before it began.”  

A plot that is reminiscent of the oft-described waves of grief, Lawson expertly creates her own tides on the page. She welcomes you—warmly—into each character’s moments of deep pain, lingering long enough for your throat to tighten, and then she guides you away, allowing you to catch your breath. Her clear, uncomplicated prose allows for deep reflection without relying on flourish. Lawson’s profound control on the page is evident without feeling manipulative. Filled with deft tension and a stunning—yet not glorified—portrait of small-town life, Lawson explores both the pain and delight of being known.  

“I have stopped trying to erase the past, my love. I see now that it is part of the story, and the story is me. Denying it is denying that I am who I am.”  

A Town Called Solace is written with the care and attention stories of loss and grief demand. Lawson gently provides us with an ever-changing view of what it means to be human. How to live with the things we’ve endured and how there is no easy way through life’s challenges. We all have wounds of varying shapes and sizes and we’ve all experienced a heartbreak that we thought we wouldn’t survive. Mary Lawson shows us, through elegant and vibrant storytelling, how our darkest moments transform us and how there is always a way to carry what we once thought we couldn’t. A tender book that left me feeling hopeful and light, as though Lawson unburdened my own heart with the comfort of her words.  

A Town Called Solace is on the 2021 Booker Longlist. You can read an interview with Mary Lawson here at the Booker Prize website.

Mary Lawson was born and brought up in a small farming community in Ontario. She is the author of three previous nationally and internationally bestselling novels, Crow LakeThe Other Side of the Bridge, and Road EndsCrow Lake was a New York Times bestseller and was chosen as a Book of the Year by The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others. The Other Side of the Bridge was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Lawson lives in England but returns to Canada frequently.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House of Canada (Feb. 4 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735281270
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735281271

Joanne Gallant is a pediatric nurse and writer. She has a biology degree from Mount Allison University and a nursing degree from the University of Alberta. Her debut book, A Womb in the Shape of a Heart, was published by Nimbus Publishing in September 2021. She lives in Halifax with her husband and son.