Entomologist Liz Crane is studying the migratory patterns of Monarch butterflies at Lake Erie, Ontario. Her research centre lies near to her aunt and uncle’s recently deserted farmhouse, which Liz now moves into. The house contains many memories of summers past when Liz and her mother would spend the holidays with their extended family. Liz reminisces, recalling stories her uncle, who mysteriously left when she was a teenager, and of her ancestors who hailed from Ireland and North America, whilst trying to come to terms with the untimely death of her cousin Amanda.
The tale was exquisitely told: Urquhart’s prose is almost poetic at times, with a soft, gentle pace, which made the book very easy to escape into. Her descriptions of Lake Erie and the Canadian landscape were particularly lovely.
An important aspect of the novel was that Liz’s adult self was able to decipher more of what really went on between the grown-ups of her family during those long ago holidays, and the house itself holds some answers she’s been longing to discover.
I have to admit that I struggled with the heroine of the story: Liz just didn’t seem to have many likeable qualities. She wasn’t overly kind, didn’t offer help to her Mexican friend, Teo, when he needed it, and generally failed to capture my imagination. She was such a solitary character; it was hard to imagine her spending such sociable summers with her cousins. I also felt she was far too passive, spending her days revisiting the past instead of making the most of the present.
By contrast, Amanda’s clandestine love, which she confesses a little to Liz about, really interested me. I wish it had been dealt with in greater depth, perhaps by Liz meeting Amanda’s lover early in the novel and developing her own relationship with him.
‘Sanctuary Line’ was my first experience of Jane Urquhart’s writing, and I adored her style and the gorgeous depictions of the amazing landscapes into which her story is set. I also enjoyed the tales of Liz’s ancestors and was intrigued by Amanda’s mystery lover. However, Urquhart’s heroine didn’t inspire me as I so hoped she would. The book had a very intimate feel to it, mainly due to Urquhart’s the use of the first person, but embellished by Liz spending the majority of her time alone reminiscing ; I felt I was being confided to, which was a very clever way for Urquhart to have her readership connect with her very beautifully written novel.
3 and a half stars