Wayne Johnston has been an author on my radar to read since his most popular novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams about Newfoundland was published. Unbeknownst to me, when I chose this latest of his novels to begin with, it actually completes his Newfoundland Trilogy with The Custodian of Paradise in between.
As historical fiction, this trilogy tells a social and political tale of a nation as it grows and becomes part of Canada. This final instalment has a compelling opening scene where a kid comes home from school during the first snowstorm of the year to find the door locked, the car gone, and his parents vanished. How Ned, an only child, copes with this weird event, become the foundation of the story and echoes throughout.
The author has some very clear themes about the possibility of healing from tragic and mysterious circumstances–how one can cope and perhaps overcompensate for a rough start, and how family secrets can undermine an otherwise firm foundation. Can a personality be warped by loss and is there any hope for redemption? Echoing the title, motifs of first snow (obliteration) and last light (impending darkness) reverberate.
I must say that though the writing was beautiful and I was interested in the outcome, the novel felt a bit overwritten and moved very slowly at times. And I didn’t find much redemption in the ending–though surprising and clever, it left me feeling a bit bleak and wondering about the point of it all.