6 February 2015

Review #141: My Ghosts by Mary Swan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
                                                    ---- George Bernard Shaw, an Irish playwright, socialist, and a co-founder of the London School of Economics

Mary Swan, a Canadian novelist and short story writer, spun a spectacular family tale, My Ghosts which tracks the history of a family for 150 years down the line.

In My Ghosts, with an uncanny eye for the telling detail, Mary Swan brings to vivid life a household of Scottish orphans trying to make their way in Toronto in 1879. The youngest, Clare, has rheumatic fever; the oldest brother has run away. The fate of them all rests on the responsible Ben, the irrepressible Charlie and the two middle sisters: Kez, sarcastic with big ears and a kind heart, and Nan, benignly round but with a hidden talent for larceny and mischief. Fascinating lives spool out from these siblings: a cast of indelible strivers and schemers, spinsters and unhappy spouses, star-crossed lovers and hidden adulterers, victims of war and of suicide--proof of how eventful the lives of "ordinary families" can be.
Swan leaves us with the contemporary Clare, widowed and moodily packing up her house. She isn't sure what she'll do next, and she knows nothing of her family's past. But we do: we recognize the ghosts and echoes, the genetic patterns and the losses that have shaped her as much as her own choices and heartbreaks.

To be honest, it's a very difficult novel, and it takes patience to comprehend the underlying storyline or rather say the memories. This is the family history of McFarlane family which traces some evocative memories of the six orphans of this family for 150 years, and the astounding past is that the story begins with one Clare and ends up with another Clare, who are only related by a bloodline!

Well, the storyline is quite unique and I never read anything so unusual- a story about family memories tracing for 150 years down the line, and each chapter in this book is a sketch of a particular family member- his/her accounts of memories about his/her family, legacy, some hidden secrets, some past ghosts, some regrets. But all the while, we never actually get well acquainted with those featured characters. Sometimes, it will make you hate the book, since every other character in this book is diverse and is easy to differentiate, thus making us fall for their demeanor and mannerism quite easily, and that leaves us with an emptiness. Since all we get to know is the memories and trying to figure out the interconnectedness among his/her forefathers.

The narration was gripping and very captivating from the very first page, but it lacked depth. Though the author's prose was articulate enough to pull us into the flow of the memory-line but it wasn't eloquent enough to make us fall in love with it. Well, I'd like to hats off to the author for featuring objects like a banjo, a miniature tea-cup, a slingshot and the characters trying to figure out the distinct memories attached with them. Moreover, the author's intricacy over minute details of such objects makes the tale interesting.

The author's portrayal of the ancestral timeline through some distinct characters and objects and the repercussion caused by their memories, was in a way quite poignant. There's a similarity between both the Clares in this story, both lost in their thoughts about time and history! And their thoughts about time acted as a bridge to traverse the whole family saga for a century and a half!

Verdict: If you want to absorb the beauty of this author's words, then go for it, otherwise, you can give it a miss, if challenging storyline are not your cup of tea!

Courtesy: Many, many thanks to the author, Mary Swan, for giving me an opportunity to read and review her novel. 

Author Info:
Mary Swan is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. She is also a trained librarian with a keen eye for history. Her novel The Boys in the Trees, a shortlisted nominee for the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize, was inspired by a newspaper clipping concerning a death within a family.
Swan was the winner of the 2001 O. Henry Award for short fiction for her short story "The Deep", which was published in The Malahat Review. That story later became the title story of her debut short story collection The Deep and Other Stories in 2002.
A graduate of York University and the University of Guelph, she currently resides in Guelph, Ontario with her family.
Visit her here 

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