Girl from Dream City, The

28 July 2021

The Girl from Dream City: A Literary Life
by Linda Leith
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Michelle Shaw
$21.95 ISBN 9780889777859

One of the joys of reviewing books is that I’m constantly discovering fascinating lives and original stories. Linda Leith is new to me, but her book is so interesting that she quickly drew me into her narrative.

The Girl from Dream City is a small book, yet it manages to combine numerous aspects of Leith’s life, as well as the context of the broader literary world in which she lives and writes.

First and foremost, the book is a memoir of sorts, from Leith’s early years growing up in Northern Ireland and England, with an emotionally unpredictable and volatile father, to her later years as a writer and publisher in Montreal. Leith’s early life was peripatetic and complicated. Her family was “a world unto itself” and their constant moving from country to country as her father progressed up the corporate ladder meant that no one else was really allowed into the family unit. Her father ruled the family with a strong hand and his volatility ensured he wasn’t challenged, at least not without repercussions. Only years later did she discover that her father had been diagnosed with manic depression when she was a child. Long after her father’s death, when her mother was living in a sprawling house in Canterbury, their many discussions helped her to “[fill] in the gaps between what I remembered, what I knew, and what I had never been able to figure out.”

The book also explores Leith’s life as a writer, as well as a wife and a mother, and her constant struggle to find some way to flourish as all three. Leith was fascinated by other Canadian writers, especially those from Quebec. She was particularly fascinated by the life of women writers. “A women’s life is often complicated in ways that a man’s life is not … [as] soon as I started reading one of these women, I wanted to know how she became the writer she had become. Where was she born? Into what kind of world? … Was she happy there? Or was she itching to leave? …Was she able to support herself by writing? … Or did she have some other paid work and somehow still find the time, energy and courage to write her books?”

Although Leith became known as a novelist, essayist and publisher, she was also deeply involved in the literary landscape in Quebec. She is the founder of the literary festival Blue Metropolis, an international event that involves writers working in a wide variety of languages. The book explores the challenges of establishing such a diverse project in the politically delicate world of Quebec politics.

What I particularly appreciated about the book was the long-term perspective on Leith’s literary life, as well as her exploration of what it means to be a writer. We are given glimpses into her day to day writing life but also her growing understanding of the context in which she became a writer. Reading The Girl from Dream City has made me eager to explore more of Leith’s work.


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