Consolation Review
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According to historian David Hollis, somewhere beneath the future site of Toronto’s new sports arena lies one of the city’s greatest treasures. As Hollis explained in the controversial monograph that he wrote before his death, a ship carrying the glass negatives of the first photographs of Toronto sank in the harbor in 1857. Though the harbor was eventually filled in to expand the city, Hollis believed that the wreck was still there—and if he could get the city to stop construction on the new arena, he could find the negatives and uncover an important piece of the city’s history.

As Marianne Hollis mourns the death of her husband, she takes up residence in the hotel overlooking the construction site, determined to find the negatives and prove her husband’s claims—and clear his name. Though Bridget, Marianne’s daughter, thinks Marianne has lost her mind, Bridget’s fiancé, John Lewis, secretly joins Marianne in watching and researching and eagerly anticipating the moment when the construction crew will find the ship that they both hope is there.

Consolation also tells the story of Jem Hallam, a young apothecary who travels to 1850s Toronto to start a new life—and, eventually, to bring his wife and daughters over to Canada from their home in England. But life in the new world isn’t what he had expected—and he’s only able to survive with the help of an old crippled photographer and a desperate widow.

Since my husband grew up in Toronto—and I’ve spent a bit of time in the city over the years—I figured I’d find Consolation to be an interesting read. But I had no idea that it would mesmerize me as much as it did. Redhill combines historical tidbits with fascinating characters and vivid descriptions to create a story that’s truly spellbinding.

Redhill is a spectacular storyteller. His style makes the book easy to read, and the suspense he packs into the story makes it difficult to put down. The book’s imagery brings 1850s Toronto—a city where everyday life is occasionally disrupted by a stray bear wandering down King Street, and where poor immigrants have to be creative to survive—to life in a way that makes you feel as though you actually lived there, right beside Jem and Sam and Claudia. And the emotion in the 1990s portion of the book is so strong that you’ll feel as though you’re standing beside John and Marianne, hoping that something turns up as the workers continue to dig.

Consolation is an unforgettable read—one that will cross my mind each time I visit my favorite stores on Queen Street or travel along the 401 and see the city’s skyline come into view to the south.

If this is any indication of what’s to come in 2007, it’s going to be a great year for those of us who love to read.

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