John Lent’s novel, The Path to Ardroe, offers a sustained, polymorphous meditation on understanding and accepting oneself, as seen in the shared memories, thoughts, and experiences of several Canadians. It offers a tapestry consisting of four strands of narrative, including those of three characters approaching mid-life, which are told in the first-person, and one of a young woman in her early twenties, which is told in the third-person. Lent’s approach in this terrain is balanced and focused, each character’s situation being sufficiently engrossing to make the experience effortlessly contemplative, highly observant, and satisfyingly rich with detail and personal insight. It is not only an enjoyable novel to read, but to sustain in the mind, as each perspective differs in its orientation to the landscape, the present, and the past, making the strands of selves form the parts of a distinct chord, the hum of the chord being unique and enjoyable, in itself.
The Path to Ardroe is a novel of the themes that recur and reverberate across lives and generations, showing their tendency to enter and enrich the texture of human thought and life. It will especially appeal to readers who have a predilection for novels about the writing process and the introspective turns that make writing such an intriguing and perplexing pastime. Two of its characters, Melissa Picard and Rick Connelly, are aspiring writers in pursuit of the experience and wisdom that will bear fruit in their writing lives. However, both are attracted, like moths to a flame, by the enigmas of their fathers. Tania Semenchuk’s story is that of a woman walking the urban landscape of Edmonton, thinking about her past. She has congenital pancreatic cancer and now contemplates the Edmonton she grew up in during the period of the ‘sixties, that time in which class boundaries were rendered explicit, and self-experimentation was an accepted form of political and cultural participation. It becomes clear that it was the Western Canada of this transformative time, as well as her experience of that strange and exciting decade, that have formed her. As she walks the Edmonton streets, she becomes more aware of an Edmonton of myth and enchantment existing underneath the bustling metropolis. Peter Chisholm’s narrative is that of a man at a turning point in his life. He has rented a house in Scotland out of a vague sense of his own changing circumstances. He is in search of nothing short of the Holy Grail, but discovers a very Canadian truth that allows him to embrace a future that is more encompassing, in body, mind, and spirit.
Each of the characters in this novel is seen at a solitary, liminal moment of life, their thoughts and memories a snapshot of the elliptical movements of time and landscape. At these times, the human soul contemplates life, death, and its relationships with the world around it. The Path to Ardroe is a formally striking, even beautiful, novel. Its characters are subtly connected in mind and spirit and the reader experiences a sense of the present as a dream of the self that never ceases to transmute, shape, challenge, and entice its dreamer.
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