Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

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Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Mesmerising writing and a plot which has been beautifully crafted makes for a book you'll want to keep. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2012
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-0857051240

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Entomologist Liz Crane has returned to her family's property on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie where she's studying the migratory patterns of the monarch butterfly, which flies south, reproduces, dies, repeats this and a further generation returns to Lake Erie and the process begins again. As Liz works she reminisces about the family of which she's a part - almost incidentally - and how they have migrated. Foremost in her mind is her cousin, Amanda Butler, a gifted military strategist, who came home from Afghanistan is a flag-covered coffin, but moves on to her uncle who disappeared a decade or so before, the Mexican workers who came each year for the harvest and those members of the Butler family who came Ireland - some to grow fruit and others to become lighthouse keepers.

This is a mesmerising, beautiful book which draws you in almost slyly. There are two reasons for this and the first is the plot. It builds, layer upon layer, tale upon anecdote until this family has worked its way under your skin.Liz Crane is a wonderful narrator, honest and self-effacing, used to being solitary and never needing to put herself at the centre of events. It's a story of love - and love affairs which might or might not be the same thing - and loss, of how place affects us and makes us who we are, or highlights who we are not.

We affect place too - since the departure of her uncle the orchards on the farm have declined, decayed and are now virtually overgrown - returning to what they once were. When I began reading I thought that it would be a steady, delightful read, but there's a power to this story which isn't immediately obvious and really only becomes apparent after you've turned the final page.

The second reason is the quality of the writing. There's nothing showy or clever-clever but you have a sense that every phrase has been crafted and carefully placed. I thought it would be - at 256 pages in hardback - a relatively quick read but once again I was wrong. I would read a sentence and then go back to read it again and mull over the implications. I found myself rereading whole passages and it was with some difficulty that I stopped myself going back to the beginning and starting again - just to see how it was done - but it is a book to keep and which will be just as good on subsequent readings.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Another coastal story with strong women characters which we've recently enjoyed is Maine by Courtney Sullivan. For more stories from Canada we can recommend The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney and Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay.

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Buy Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart at


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