Sanctuary Line: Symbolism Gone Wild


I’m writing about Jane Urquhart’s A Map of Glass for the big T right now, and so I should begin this post with the caveat that my interpretation of Sanctuary Line may be skewed by my frustration with writing about A Map of Glass. That said, even though I am writing endless pages about it, I like A Map of Glass. I do not, however, like Sanctuary Line.

The top lists of 2010 like Sanctuary Line. They like it, I suspect, because it comes heavily laden with symbolism and with the promise that this. is. literary. fiction. Unfortunately the endless symbols of butterflies, transformation, lighthouses, reading, vigilance, connection, and a vital past do not accompany anything like an engaging plot. Instead the reader encounters chapter after chapter of a frustrating (not tantalizing) promise that soon – no! soon! – the “mystery” that explains the disappearance of Liz’s uncle and the tragedy of Liz’s childhood will be revealed. This reader suspected, nay expected, that somehow the over-determined symbolism that weighed down the narrative would, in the final reveal, make sense, would make the plot richer and the experience of slogging through worthwhile. Alas. The big mystery appeared to this reader so surprising, so unexpected that I couldn’t help but wonder if in all my attention to symbolism I had somehow missed the connection between transformation and… (the big reveal).

I have to say I generally admire Urquhart for her poetic descriptions of landscape, her weaving of symbol, plot, metaphor and character, and her ambition in thematic scope. This novel, however, left me feeling frustrated and vaguely discomfited: have I become a poorer reader? Let’s not discount this possibility, it’s been a long semester. But let’s also consider the possibility that this book may have missed the mark, and instead of weaving a delightful tapestry of character, plot, theme and symbol we’re left with a knotted ball of (enter the misplaced metaphor).


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Filed under Book I'll Forget I Read, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Historical Fiction

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