Consolation, By Michael Redhill

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The Independent Culture

So many deaths, and so much earth over them, and how much we forget: this is the chant beneath Michael Redhill's novel of archaeology and loss.

Professor David Hollis, convinced that the remains of a ship lost in the mid-19th century can still be uncovered on the shores of Lake Ontario, is driven to suicide, ostensibly by the scorn of his colleagues. His widow sets up house in an apartment overlooking the site, refusing to speak to anyone.

Only her son-in-law to be can reach her, and to him falls the burden of recovering Hollis's lost legacy, and, through it, another one: the story Hollis had hoped to uncover, which was that of Jem Hallam, a failed English pioneer who, on discovering the art of photography, became an obsessive chronicler of Toronto, then was lost in a storm on Lake Ontario.

This is a tortuous and strange book, full of digressions and ragged seams. The author's gentle cadences carry the reader through, however.