Canada Reads is fast-approaching and I’m pretty much right on schedule. A week left and one more book to go. Since my reading during the week has slowed considerably it looks like next weekend will include a variety of coffee shops.
The Age of Hope by David Bergen
This number was chosen to represent “Prairies and the North”. Set in Eden and Winnipeg, Manitoba it tackles an area of the country in which I’ve spent no more than 3 hours. Eden probably could have been a small town anywhere in the prairies – or Northern Ontario, for that matter. We start at Hope Plett’s late teens and follow her through marriage – with a name change to the succinct Hope Koop – the birth of their children, through friendships, times of strength and times of weakness until we leave Hope as a woman in her 70s. The author divides Hope’s life into 5 epochs or ages: innocence, despair, profit, longing and hope. Born before the feminist revolution Hope always had a restlessness that she was never sure how to satisfy in the confines of what was expected of her. Her marriage to Roy, a steadfast and calm man, is maybe not fulfilling in every way but she loves him and she appreciates his innate goodness. Across the span of about 50 years we watch Hope acknowledge who she is and figure out how to fit in the world.
A general theme across Canada Reads 2013 has been stories about the lives of Canadians. Perhaps fictional Canadians but, nonetheless, characters you could picture as people who really exist(ed) alongside ourselves. People experiencing life at the same time as we completely unaware of each other but having a vague sense of 30-or-so-million others sharing a similar existence. People you brush past at the grocery store and to whom we pay general courtesies. The one except to this may be Away by Jane Urquhart thus far.
Of all these people created in the minds of writers Hope Koop is the one with whom I most closely identify. Which is not necessarily an altogether positive thought nor is it inherently negative. I identify with Hope because she finds herself in a life that she anticipated and accepted and maybe even wanted but that does not quite suit her. She finds herself in bouts of melancholy at times primarily because she questions how things are and how she is – she is more or less normal and acceptable to society yet still fails to quite fit. At times she lets people walk over her or control her. Even though she is in a loosely built cage of her own making she does little things to rebel, to remind herself that she doesn’t fit and that she could tear down the bars if she so chose.
The other thing I enjoyed about this book was how real her family felt. Bergen is great at making characters feel real and at giving them a personality that makes sense and stays true throughout the novel. **Spoiler** When reading the book I expected Hope to eventually leave her husband and as the right side of the book was growing thinner and I had gotten to know both Hope and Roy better I knew that she wouldn’t leave and that, if she had, Roy would not have stopped her. Not because he didn’t love her but simply because he had already accepted who she was and wanted her to be happy – if leaving meant she might be happy he would not stop her. Later in the book Hope basically reflects the same thing: he would have let her go. Their 4 children were all individuals, all products of both nature and nurture and felt real. There was something genuine about Penny who, as a young child, hid around corners and took notes on adult conversations in her own concocted script.
As I try to decide what I want from life and who I am this book spoke to me. Have I already made choices that mean that, as I mature, my path and Hope’s will diverge until the resemblances that were once there have faded? Or perhaps I’ve kept myself in the same set of bars but painted them a different colour and changed the window dressing?
This became more of a self-reflection than a book review but what good is a book that doesn’t teach us something about ourselves or about the world around us? Or at least challenge us to ask ourselves questions.
What most recent character in a story resonated with you?
Up next: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese