THE TINDERBOX: A NOVEL
Volume 11 Number 1.
Marianne Brandis' second novel is a well-researched, often meticulously reproduced depiction of pioneer life in the 1830s near Dundas, Ontario. Young readers, raised on television's adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, will find this a more accurate portrayal of the hard, mind-numbing, often cheerless nature of life in the backwoods.
The story centres around thirteen-year-old Emma Anderson and her efforts to cope with the grief of losing her parents and younger sisters in a tragic fire. Forced to accept the charity of the Wilburs, a neighbouring family, she must also shoulder the responsibility for her younger brother John and deal with the amorous advances of a local farmer who has offered to marry her. The story is complicated by the arrival of Mrs. McPhail, an enigmatic woman who claims to be the children's aunt and guardian yet refuses to supply any other information about herself. Alarmed by her aunt's secretiveness and aided by bed-ridden Granny Wilbur, Emma attempts to uncover Mrs. McPhail's hidden motives. The quest leads Emma to some important discoveries about herself. One senses that she, like all good Canadian heroines, will survive but probably not happily and possibly at the cost of developing a shrewd, calculating character to match her aunt's.
The narrative is well-written and generally engrossing. The mood of suppressed emotion about to erupt like dry tinder exposed to a stray spark is sustained throughout the book. Emma's sexual awakening is fairly well-handled except that the male characters suffer from an unfortunate lack of latitude, either leering at Emma "greedily" or showing her total indifference. Several Idose ends and unanswered questions promise more intrigue than is actually delivered.
The book's attractive physical appearance with the original wood engravings of rustic settings by G. Brender à Brandis, although not colourful, is in keeping with the spirit of the basic, unadorned pioneer lifestyle.
Barbara A. Macrae, Brampton, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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