Confession time: I don’t care for the paintings of Maud Lewis. This is heresy for a Nova Scotian, but it’s true. Folk art just isn’t my thing. I knew a little about Lewis’ difficult life (the health issues, the poverty, the tiny, painted house) since these facts are added to our tap water, but have never felt motivated to learn more. (And no, I haven’t seen that Maudie movie because movies also aren’t my thing.)
I had faith in Carol Bruneau’s ability to make me care about Maud Lewis, however, so I ordered a copy and, lo and behold, my faith was justified. It’s very good.
It takes courage to tell a story so familiar to so many in such a fresh way and it takes skill to know when and how to inject that story with moments of lightness and grace and humour. Bruneau’s got ’em . I think Maud Lewis would be pleased.
When Dorothy Whipple submitted this perfect specimen of domestic fiction back in the early 1950s, her publisher was lukewarm about it, apparently, since the fashion in literature had turned decisively to action/adventure-type books and Someone at a Distance just didn’t fit the bill.
It’s true that the plot summary probably sounds boring to thrill-seekers: Avery and Ellen have been happily married for 20 years. They have charming, precocious children, a lovely house and extensive gardens, and work that they each find personally and financially fulfilling. Then Avery’s cranky old mother hires a beautiful, young, French woman named Louise to serve as her companion and it becomes clear the clock is ticking on Avery and Ellen’s perfect lives.
This is a quiet novel, for sure, but it definitely isn’t boring. Whipple is such a master at scene-setting and pacing and characterization that I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t care for (or needs to take a break from) Scandinavian police procedurals, courtroom thrillers or post-apocalyptic hellscapes.