Held by Anne Michaels

Anne Michaels is a luminous writer, and her fiction is some of the best I’ve read – like many people, I fell head over heels in love with Fugitive Pieces – so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, I was thrilled. After reading it, I’m still delighted, but it’s a bit more complicated. Held is a complicated, layered novel, following four generations of a family through pivotal moments in their lives, where choices and events reverberate through time. Michaels’ story walks up to death and examines the fuzziness of the boundary between life and death: what does it mean to die? And is someone ever really gone? In Held, the characters constantly confront their ghosts.

“Held is a beautiful novel, but it’s not an easy one.”

Beginning in 1917, the novel opens with John lying on a battlefield after a blast, sinking through memory as he watches the wreckage around his body. In 1920, John has survived WWI and has a photography studio while his wife Helena is an artist. They’re slowly healing, until John’s pictures start to reveal ghosts alongside his customers. With the past sitting in his studio, John can no longer cope, and so begins the story of a family through time, drawn to solve problems, haunted by not only their losses but the losses of others. John’s daughter Anna, his granddaughter Mara, and his great-granddaughter Anna all grapple with the ghosts that follow them in different ways, seeking to find the meaning of life that haunts them. In addition to the stories of John, Anna, Mara, and Anna, there are short interludes to tell the stories of different figures who interact with each generation and pull them together.

Held is a novel full of questions, but short on answers. Michaels’ writing is once again incredible, and she makes excellent use of what she doesn’t put on the page as well. The threads between each generation aren’t always apparent, and this novel operates largely on a deeper level. It’s one you need to sit with in order to fully tease out the questions of life and death Michaels is writing about and one that takes time to work through. This is a novel that I’ll be thinking about for some time, and one I expect to return to, for a new and deeper understanding of the way we look for meaning in different environments. Held is a beautiful novel, but it’s not an easy one. However, it’s worth the effort.

About the Author

Anne Michaels’ first novel was the international bestseller Fugitive Pieces, now a major motion picture. It won several awards, including the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Guardian Fiction Award, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Michaels is also the author of three highly acclaimed poetry collections. She lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McClelland & Stewart (Nov. 14 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0771005458
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0771005459

Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.