Urquhart is a winner of the Governor General’s Award (for The Underpainter), an officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of France’s Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. There are many other awards and accolades. Stacks of them, in fact. No one ever argues that Urquhart has a deep and generous talent and that her books have been universally wonderful. But Sanctuary Line? It’s even better.
And why? This voice is smooth and rich and polished. Urquhart seems to have figured out where all the words go… and then put them in that order. That’s not meant to trivialize what is truly a significant gift. Rather, seven novels, one work of non-fiction, four collections of poetry and an editorship of a short story collection later, Urquhart has learned a thing or two about conveying her message; sharing her gift. There is no girlish awkwardness in Sanctuary Line. No missteps or false notes. To sit down with the book is to be engaged by it. More: Urquhart has something to say and she says it very, very well.
Look out the window.
The cultivated landscape of this farm has decayed so completely now, it is difficult to believe that the fields and orchards ever existed outside of my own memories, my own imagination.
Though there historical elements show up in Sanctuary Line — from 19th century Ontario and Ireland — they are woven into a contemporary story that concerns a single family. And while a single narrative voice gives the book an intimate feel, there are times the story sweeps along like a multi-generational saga. This, too, is part of Urquhart’s gift: the ability to make us feel connected and intimate and, at the same time, part of something much, much larger than ourselves.
That single voice belongs to entomologist Liz Crane, come to stay in her family’s abandoned farmhouse where she spent most of the summers of her life. She’s there to study the migratory patterns of the Monarch butterfly, but she ends up deep in recollections and discoveries about her family and their forgotten secrets and it is all so much more than she bargained for.
Sanctuary Line is a beautiful, unforgettable book. How does Jane Urquhart just keep getting better and better? ◊
Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.