by Jane Urquhart
It feels like quite some time since a book came along and both delighted me and terrified me through its superb writing, making me glad that high art still exists in contemporary Canadian literature, though worried that I’m nowhere near creating anything comparable in quality. It should go without saying, then––but I’ll say it anyway––that Urquhart’s masterpiece is fabulous in every sense of the word.
The story follows multiple characters through interweaving plotlines. Tam, who was an auxiliary pilot during World War II, flees Ireland and her lover, Niall, to North America. The thick fog keeps her stranded at Gander Airport in Newfoundland, where she has plenty of time to study a curious mural and her memories. We also explore the lives of Kenneth, the man who painted the mural, and Kieran, Niall’s estranged brother. The Night Stages leads us through its complex story with the best pacing out of any book I’ve read in recent memory. The author never gives away too much, but she will let slip important information that gives the plot much more weight, and often without ceremony. Urquhart doesn’t artificially present things in such a way that they feel as though they should be significant; she actually makes things significant through this incredible pacing, effective characterization, and prose that is both delicate and precise. What remains is a narrative so rich, so full of life and heart, that I absolutely will revisit it.