Father Christopher Pennant has been sent to his very first parish, the sleepy little town of Barrow, Ontario. A town that has more sheep than people, it looks to be a great place to start out. But for some people, Barrow isn’t as idyllic as it seems. Elizabeth Denny is a young woman whose fiancé can’t choose between the sweet woman he is engaged to and the more worldly Jane. Elizabeth turns to Father Pennant for advice, but he is dealing with a crisis of faith when he witnesses three miracles of nature, including a mayor who walks on water.
Pastoral, by André Alexis, is a beautiful and simple novel that looks at the simplicity of rural life through a fresh lens. Based on Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, it is a definite stand out from the pack.
This is a wonderful book to read, a book of simplicity yet with so much underneath, just like the town itself. Alexis said that he wrote this as an ode to Lambton Country in Ontario, where he lived after immigrating to Canada from Trinidad, and his affection shows. What absolutely drew me in about this book was the fact that you could not tell what time period you are in. Sure there are cars and telephones, but that could span numerous decades. Either way, if you’re reading this book in the city, you are magically transported to a much easier place.
This is a short book, 160 pages, but it is packed full of interesting characters. It is great to discover these people and what they are about along with Father Pennant, and the Father himself is a great character as he finds his beliefs and his faith tested.
Over the past two months I have read a lot of Canadian Literature and this is one of the books that shines bright in the crowd. It’s depiction of life in small-town Ontario is simple, to the point, lovely, and lyrical. This is Can Lit.
Pastoral was shortlisted for the 2014 Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and is very deserving of this nod.