Despite the fact that I am an English major and a Canadian, I have consistently avoided Canadian Literature (aka CanLit). Forgive me Carol but I don’t like Ondaatje. I find Atwood boring. Richler? Beyond Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang, no interest. Farley Mowat? Please. I have always been a fan of Anne Marie MacDonald, but just assumed that she was the exception to my rule - and she's only written two books.
However, as I look back on what I have been reading and what is on my list of things to read, there is an increasing amount of CanLit. The most recent being The Birth House by Ami McKay. Set in a small village in Nova Scotia, The Birth House tells a fantastic story of one of women’s most epic struggles: the right to control their body.
Through the eyes of Dora Rare, the story deals with her apprenticeship in one of the oldest traditions of the community: midwifery. Miss Babineau is an eccentric old bird who is not only entrusted with the delivery of the village’s children but also regarded by the women as a sort of healer and importantly, secret keeper. She is not universally revered however. The men fear her, the old society ladies hypocritically look down their noses at her. The village is sent into a tizzy as a myopic doctor comes to town to set up a maternity hospital to extol the virtues of a “pain free” delivery and proceeds to create a malicious rumour and gossip mill that threatens to ruin Miss Babineau and her young charge.
The book was beautifully written although sometimes painful to read. There is a lot of back-stabbing and turning a blind eye. Fortunately though, there are also celebrations of more noble qualities, such as loyalty and McKay shows the beauty and strength of female friendships and what can happen when common sense truly prevails.
I have been on a good run lately, and this is definitely going on my top 10 list of the year. Who knows, maybe I am a CanLit fan in the making.
The Birth House