THE HOLDING by Merilyn Simonds


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The story of a 19th-century family of Scottish emigrants to Canada’s Madawaska region, and of a modern couple inhabiting the same land in the 1990s.

This first novel from Simonds (The Lion in the Room Next Door, stories, 2002, etc.) opens with Margaret MacBayne, who lives with her two older brothers in a homestead they cleared and claimed upon arriving, in 1859, from Fife, on Scotland’s east coast. Their mother and father died shortly after their arrival in the new land, so Margaret is largely left to herself to explore the woods in the winter months. She eventually learns about the medicinal powers of herbs from an Indian neighbor who cares for her when Margaret’s betrothed, a young man who returned with her brothers one spring, dies during a tree-felling competition. In alternating chapters, we learn of Alyson Thomson’s idyllic existence on the same farm in the early 1990s. Alyson cultivates her herbs for sale in teas and spices alongside Walker, a moody, antisocial artist with whom she bought the land ten years before. After several discouraging miscarriages, Alyson finds herself pregnant. Walker has left for the season to make money, and Alyson must deliver the baby herself in a perilous emergency. Inconsolable and estranged from Walker after the infant’s death, she unearths a diary that reveals the sad tale of Margaret’s lost love and subsequent revenge on her brothers. Alyson also discovers damning evidence against her secretive husband, who changed his name after running away from home as a boy. Simonds concocts a portentous mix in this atmospheric novel.

Dreamy, savagely romantic Canadian fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-393-06061-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2005


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