It is 1947 in a small town in Saskatchewan. Leonard is a young boy who befriends a reclusive man known as Rabbit Foot Bill. Bill commits a sudden act of violence and is sent to prison. Twelve years later, Leonard is a recently graduated doctor of psychiatry. His first job is at the Weyburn Mental Hospital where he encounters Bill again. What follows is a strange obsession that ends badly. This book explores the frailty and resilience of the human mind, and the elusive relationship between truth and fiction. The story also reveals the abysmal treatment of mental illness in the 1950s with use of LSD by both the doctors and patients. Humphreys is an under-appreciated literary goddess, with previous gems like The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden and Nocturne.
Humphreys is a great writer (Nocturne, The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden). Her new book is fascinating because the first half is a personal account of her writing process: start with an idea, in this case an obituary of a reclusive Scottish woman who was a renowned salmon-fly dresser. Humphreys describes the essential questions: What is the story? Whose Story is it? How are you going to tell the story? The second half of the book is the imagined life of the Scottish woman; very entertaining.
This is a quiet novel about love and loss, regret and contrition, and the aftermath of war. This is Humphreys’ 3rd novel set in WWII (Coventry, and the sublime The Lost Garden): each of them is different and perceptive. Humphreys is becoming one of my favourite authors.
(thanks to Amy/Steph). Really excellent writing; book was read in one setting so clearly I was engaged by the story. The book describes the experience of the author’s life together with her brother, and details after his death. Perhaps I was primed by the [Miriam] Toews AMPS [All My Puny Sorrows] but I have a personal preference for introspective and insightful writing. Humphreys captures the cruelty of disease and the numbness of grief. She writes: fear the worst because the worst has happened” (first Matthew and then Anne).