________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2012


Centenary at Jalna.

Mazo de la Roche.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 1958/2011.
307 pp., trade pbk. & e-book, $24.99 (pbk.), $9.99 (e-book).
ISBN 978-1-55488-918-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55488-917-4 (e-book).

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by J. Lynn Fraser.

*½ /4


There is an odd madness that author Mazo de la Roche bestows on her characters. Their hyper emotional behaviours and skewed view of the world fit perfectly within the gothic romance genre, but, for the reader, their often bizarre and repressed behaviours will be disturbing. To enjoy this book, the reader must be an aficionado of sweltering prose that obsessively focuses on death and blood:

“Have you ever, he asked abruptly, “seen anybody killed?”

The colour drained from her face. “Yes,” she breathed. Once — I did.”

“So did I,” he said. “It was my mother. In a motor accident. I was only four but I remember. Her blood was on the road. It was on me too.”

He raised his voice, “Do you see blood, when you think about the one you saw killed?”

“Don’t! Don’t!” She covered eyes with her hands. “I can’t bear it.”

She gave a cry as of one in pain and her slender body was shaken by sobs. (p. 54)


In the churchyard they passed the plot where Philip’s great-parents, grand-parents, great-uncles and uncle, Eden, were buried, as well as several infant Whiteoaks. Meg had put fresh flowers in the metal containers by the graves, and little Mary had that very morning laid a few daisies and a prettily coloured dead butterfly on the smallest grave because she felt sorry for the baby down there.
(p. 124)

     For a follower of de la Roche’s work, the novel continues the saga of the Whiteoaks which relied heavily on metaphors of overgrown nature and comparisons of people to houses that was a mainstay of both the Brontes’ writing and de la Roche’s earlier installments in this series, and this book will not disappoint. The novel firmly fits into the Southern Ontario gothic tradition of narrative. The lives, emotions, and generations that live in the Whiteoak’s household are as overgrown and intertwined as the foliage and vines metaphors in the text:

A mingling of weeds and wild shrubs grew waist-high. Among these grew garter snakes and above circled bats, singing their nocturnal song, heard only by themselves. But above the other growth flourished an exuberant wild grapevine. It covered the windows of the Hut, wound itself about the latch of the door, fixing it as if with a bolt. Its great leaves shone in the moonlight, as though lacquered. Its strong tendrils hung in wait for anything they could capture. (p. 104)

     There is even a miniature version of the young Heathcliff in the character of the boy Dennis. His behaviour, in real life, would qualify him as a psychopath. In de la Roche’s novel, he is just seen as merely high strung by the other characters. Among his dubious acts, Dennis delays telephoning for a doctor when a woman goes into labour:

She repeated to him loudly. “Tell him to hurry — my baby is coming!” She laid herself on her bed, doubled up in agony.…(p. 191)

An extraordinary sense of power possessed Dennis. His small body was fairly shaken by this sense of power. He strode up and down the music room, listening to her groans, but he would not telephone the doctor…Now he ran to the door and shouted: “Go ahead!
Have your monster! That’s what it’s going to be you know—a monster—a monster. My father doesn’t want it—I don’t want it—it’s yours.
(p. 193)

     Death, madness, and strange behaviour afflict young and old in this novel. Young Mary, who is a deeply disturbed child, whispers on several occasions to a new born, “You’re prettier than a spider,” she said, “sweeter than a rose.” (p. 307). This story, set in 1953, is ripe for parody such as in the manner of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies due to its heavy handed prose, shrill emotions and ever present overt and covert violence. It has both a racist and misogynist tone that will offend some readers. While the earlier novels in the series could be said to provide some sense of how Canadians lived in an earlier era, this book does not have that redeeming feature.

Not recommended.

Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is an author and freelance writer. She writes for national and international magazines, non-profits, and corporations.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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