Just as Jane Urquhart relied upon local libraries to furnish the documents and detail necessary to capture with ‘shimmering clarity’ small town 1840s Ontario (Away is partially set in Port Hope; The Underpainter, which won a GG Award, is partially set in Colboug), so Michael Redhill owes a debt to the City of Toronto Archives. His Toronto Book Award-winning novel Consolation presents two Torontos, one from the mid-19th century, the other from the late 1990s.
Go to the corner of York and King streets in downtown Toronto and look around you. The only common point of reference between the two time periods is Osgoode Hall some four blocks North, on Queen Street. Nothing else of consequence remains. With photographs (many of which can be seen at the Archives) serving as the go-between, Redhill pushes the readers’ face up against an urban window pane, showing how the human scale of 1850s Toronto has been paved over and displaced by today’s towering, inhuman monuments to commercialism and ‘progress’. The novel is an eloquent rumination on lost past, and an attack on those who eat their own history – those who favour construction of characterless skyscrapers over honouring that which is worth preserving.
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