Jane Urquhart's third novel (1993) is an elegiac, lyrical family saga that celebrates Irish mythology and the resilience of Irish immigrants adapting to Canada.
Jane Urquhart's third novel (1993) is an elegiac, lyrical family saga that celebrates Irish mythology and the resilience of Irish immigrants adapting to Canada. In the frame narrative, the lone occupant of an Irish family homestead in Ontario, Esther O'Malley Robertson, whispers the story of "one hundred and forty years" of her lineage while the fate of her homestead is being sealed by an encroaching limestone quarry. As the mine obliterates the frozen "limestone records," she is "recomposing, reaffirming a lengthy, told story, recalling it; calling it back."
The juxtaposition of grim industry and Esther's story expresses symbolically a central thematic conflict between a mundane disregard for the past and the dynamic and transformative power of myth. The story of her family's past has its beginnings in the 1840s off the northern coast of Ireland during the potato famine, and Urquhart also skilfully evokes mid-19th-century pioneer Ontario settlements and Montréal and Ottawa at the time of Confederation. Central to the novel is the Irish folk-myth of those who are "away," who have been possessed or taken away to the Otherworld. Urquhart transforms the myth by attributing this type of madness to unrequited love and the yearning for an absent lover. In one of the novel's most powerful sections, a first-generation Irish-Canadian, Eileen O'Malley, is mistakenly involved in the assassination of D'Arcy McGee. Away was a co-winner of Ontario's 1994 Trillium Award.