Canadian Writers That Matter: ‘Dreaming Sally: A True Story of First Love, Sudden Death and Long Shadows’ By James Fitzgerald and ‘Warlight’ By Michael Ondaatje


‘Dreaming Sally: A True Story of First Love, Sudden Death and Long Shadows’ By James Fitzgerald
George Orr dreamed that his girlfriend, Sally Wodehouse, would die on the trip she wanted to take, and he begged her not to go. But Sally did not take him seriously–how could she? She left for Europe in July 1968 with twenty-five other private-school kids, on “The Odyssey,” a Sixties version of the Grand Tour. In August 1968, only hours after becoming engaged to George via telegram, she died as he had dreamed she would, in a freak accident.
Sally was George’s first love, but she was also James FitzGerald’s. James first met Sally at a family cottage; he was drawn to her energy and warmth, a stunning contrast to the chilly emotional life of his own family. At seventeen, not exactly a hit with the girls, James was delighted when he realized that he’d be spending the summer with his old friend. And soon, even though he knew that Sally had a serious boyfriend back home, they became inseparable, touring the glories of Western culture by day, dancing and drinking the nights away–giddily unshackled from the expectations and requirements of their class and upbringing.
To George and James, both sons of parents who knew how to make demands of their children but not how to love them, Sally represented all the optimism and promised freedom of the ’60s. Her death has haunted both men for fifty years–arresting their development, miring them in grief and unreasoning guilt. Dreaming Sally is a profound and evocative exploration of the long shadow left by an eighteen-year-old girl, an uncanny story of first love, sudden death and the complexity of trauma and mourning.
A fantastic novel to give you a flavour of what the most prestigious private school students lived in the 1960’s – Toronto, Ontario. ‘Dreaming Sally’ reads like a Dateline NBC extended episode with titillatious backdrops and dreamy characters that all hold a secret or two. There is an early foreshadowing of what is to come for one of the main characters with a few lovers chomping at the bit will make you turn the pages even faster during this great summer read. I appreciated the nods to Toronto history, landmarks and geography. Fitzgerald even drives the reader out into cottage country and overseas all the while exposing us to yummy cuisines, scenery and sounds that perhaps do not exist anymore but at one point did – only to the super elite that is. Indeed, a great mystery novel while also providing an education on what makes Toronto, Ontario a holder of many stories and sympathies.

‘Warlight’ By Michael Ondaatje
In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself–shadowed and luminous at once–we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.
Ondaatje’s latest offering brings all the makings of why he is one of the best Canadian writers of our time. Intrigue, passion, an intricate arc storyline and characters that although hardly verbose speak through their behaviours to tell us their story. ‘Warlight’ is a book that requires your full attention or you may find yourself doubling back to re-read and make sure you are on the same page as Rachel and Nathaniel. Themes of neglect, abuse and some back alley dealings paint a wonderful dark portrait of post war England. Living in that period time through Ondaatje’s words provides the reader a wonderful texture of not only what life was like but also what people needed to do to survive without much in their pockets whilst leaving behind living casualties who were in just as much clinging pain and sorrow as the buried dead.

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