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Ethel Wilson

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 263pp, paper, $6.95
ISBN 0-7710-8954-6. CIP


Ethel Wilson

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 216pp, paper, $6.95
ISBN 0-7710-8958-9. CIP

Reviewed by Sharon A. McLennan McCue.

Volume 19 Number 2
1991 March

The community of CanLit lovers should offer a prayer of thanks for what David Staines is accomplishing as General Editor of the latest incarnation of the "New Canadian Library" series. Thanks to him we are finally able to find books which have not been in print in recent memory. Ethel Wilson's Swamp Angel and The Equations of Love are among the old friends we welcome back.

The Equations of Love was first published in 1952, succeeded by Swamp Angel in 1954. Today's readers will find the books as fresh, as insightful and as well written as did Wilson's promoters some thirty-five years ago. Slowly, sometimes teasingly, she drags us along with, and finally into, the minds of her characters - people you meet on the street, who serve you coffee in a restau­rant, or drive you in a taxi, people who do not look at all interesting, that is, until Ethel Wilson invites you inside their heads.

We see Wilson's courage as a writer displayed in her technique of changing point of view. So we find out about Swamp Angel's Maggie Lloyd Vardoe not just from her thoughts but also from the Chinese taxi driver who drove her, from Henry Corder who sends her to Three Loon Lake looking for a job, and from Haldar Gunnarsen, who owns the lodge at the lake.

Such a tack can be dangerous because the writer could very easily lose the attachment which has been built up between the reader and the central character, such identification being integral to keeping the reader interested in the story. Wilson is such a fine craftsperson that she furthers the development of her central character by this method.

Reading these books now, we see the debt which must be owed to Wilson by succeeding women writers such as Margaret Laurence and Alice Munro. Munro, in fact, writes the afterword for Equations of Love, while George Bowering writes the afterword for Swamp Angel. Again we have David Staines to thank, both for his choice of afterword writers and his use of the afterword. How much more sense it makes to have an afterword, written to expand reflections of what one has just read, rather than a foreword, which one is to read before having had an opportu­nity to grasp even the barest bones of the story.

I suspect that Ethel Wilson is less appreciated in Canadian writing than she should be. If you haven't encoun­tered her writing before, this is a perfect opportunity to pick up these handsome paperbacks and savour their contents. Or, like Alice Munro, you may have lost (read lent) your copy to someone and never been able to obtain another. Now is your chance. Like fine wine, fine writing improves with age.

Sharon A. McLennan McCue, Ottawa, Ont.
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