Disclaimer: I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Before the giveaway the book had been on TBR shelf.
I first read Gutteridge a few years when I brought an omnibus edition of his first three Marc Edwards mysteries. I enjoyed them, and next time I was in Canada, I tried to find more print copies of his work, but the only ones I found where the three I had already. It was a joy to win this in a giveaway and realize that I can at least buy his books on kindle.
Lily’s Story is one of those massive works of historical fiction that use the life of one person (or in some cases the history of one family) to trace major historical events. In Guttridge’s case he has used the character of Lily to take the reader from the 1850s to the 1920s. Lily starts life with her father and mother but circumstances soon led to her being raised by her aunt and uncle. She goes from frontier living to town living to shanty town living over the course of the book.
Gutteridge does an excellent job of bring time and place to light. You do feel as if you are watching Lily and her family and friends struggle though the changing times, and the development of the railroad, the worry of rebellion, and the excitement of a visit by the Prince of Wales. And if you are further interested in the historical events that surround Lily, Gutteridge includes a bibliography at the end of the novel.
Lily, herself, is likable enough, though at times she seems to be pushed by time and events instead of actively taking part in them. There are times when she feels more symbolic than actually character, which begs the question what is she a symbol of?
And here’s what really is the best part of the novel, if Lily is a symbol of anything, it is a symbol of those women of Canada who worked and toiled but never got the notice that the men did. In fact, this novel is really more about women than the men – Lily, her aunt, her friend Sophie, and others. Gutteridge might not write the best sex scenes in the world, but he is very aware of how history and society view and viewed women. The status of women is the focus, and perhaps in part that plays a part in the passive feel that Lily sometimes has – she had no real power. It really isn’t something I’ve seen outside of Mary O’Hara.
The other running theme is that of the outsider in terms of religion – Lily isn’t religious in the ways that others around her are, and this leads in complications in a small town. Gutteridge uses this to address the issue of sameness and belonging.