Canada Reads 2013 Book Review: Two Solitudes

Author:  Hugh MacLennan

Publisher:  McClelland & Stewart

  • Imprint: New Canadian Library

Date Published: April 15th, 2003 (my version is. Originally in 1945)

Format: Paperback

Source: CBC Books

Synopsis:

“Northwest of Montreal, through a valley always in sight of the low mountains of the Laurentian Shield, the Ottawa River flows out of Protestant Ontario into Catholic Quebec. It comes down broad and ale-coloured and joins the Saint Lawrence, the two streams embrace the pan of Montreal Island, the Ottawa merges and loses itself, and the main-stream moves northeastward a thousand miles to sea.”

With these words Hugh MacLennan begins his powerful saga of Athanase Tallard, the son of an aristo-cratic French-Canadian tradition, of Kathleen, his beautiful Irish wife, and of their son Paul, who struggles to establish a balance in himself and in the country he calls home.

First published in 1945, and set mostly in the time of the First World War, Two Solitudes is a classic novel of individuals working out the latest stage in their embroiled history.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 1 and a 1/2

Cover:

Two Solitudes

Defender:

Jay Baruchel

Jay B

The Writing Score: 3.5 out of 5

Recommendation: Casual Perusal

Memorable or Forgettable: Forgettable

Rating: 3 out of 5

Review:

Pros:

I thought the writing was good but the best thing about this book was the opening and closing chapters. I love the fact that nature was used to describe the mood of the given time and the use of language. The topic of the divide between the French-Canadiens and the English-Canadians was interesting given how much of a prevailing issue it is (we’ve had two referendums that dealt with the separating of Quebec from the rest of Canada. A big deal). This book was heavy with themes of identity and memory which are important to the Quebecois but to Canadians as a whole as well given the pressures of defining who we are as a nation. As a book about symbolism and big ideas, it was great.

Cons:

It was a book of symbolism and big ideas. Look, the first hundreds of pages (excluding chapter 1) were hard to get through but then it picked up the pace a bit…but then there were a few dull parts. I wasn’t invested in the characters and the book had moments that felt like it was overly eager in proving an overall point. I honestly wasn’t won over by this and it honestly could be due to circumstance. There was a deadline in trying to get this book finished and I forcefully pushed myself to get through it (and readers out there know that this is NOT a good idea). With that being said, compared to the other books I read (ie. Away and February) it was my least favourite of the three and comparing it to the other books might also have influenced the review. I do plan on reading it again when I’m reading but this first go around didn’t do it for me.

What do you think? Is this book Canada Reads worthy?

A. A. Omer

The opinions expressed here are mine and readers are welcome to disagree. In fact, I encourage it! I never believed in putting particular books or authors on some sort of universal pedestal but you’re free to put it on your individualized pedestal because I most certainly will.

One thought on “Canada Reads 2013 Book Review: Two Solitudes

  1. I read this book years ago and barely remember it. I DO remember that it took forever to read because it was so hard to get into but that I also thought it was kind of brilliant. Kind of an enigma.

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