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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > September 2017 > Family Plot

Family Plot

Wayne Johnston revives a beloved character in an otherwise slow-moving new novel



Wayne Johnston

Knopf Canada

THE PUBLICATION of Wayne Johnston’s 1998 novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, brought as much consternation as praise. While Johnston’s portrayal of Newfoundland’s “father of Confederation,” Joey Smallwood, proved contentious, another character emerged as a reader favourite: Sheilagh Fielding, Smallwood’s unrequited love and eventual nemesis.

Johnston, apparently as fond of the alcoholic, sardonic, tragic character as readers had been, made the surprising decision to write another novel covering the same time period and many of the same events, this time from Fielding’s point of view. A starred Q&Q review of that book, The Custodian of Paradise, concluded: “By the book’s end, many mysteries have been laid to rest, only to be replaced with new ones. This raises the happy possibility that Johnston intends to return to the scene again.”

Wish granted. Though relegated to a more supporting role, Fielding figures prominently in Johnston’s newest novel, First Snow, Last Light. Sadly, this time around the character seems tired. While her wit remains as sharp, she is not aging well. By the novel’s end, it feels very much like Johnston, overly fond of his creation, was determined to wrap up her story with enough hope and happiness to make up for the torment she’d endured at his hands throughout her existence.

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