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Joan Givner.
Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press, 1989.
288pp., cloth, $26.95.
ISBN 0-19-540705-9. CIP.

Subject Headings:
De la Roche, Mazo, 1879-1961-Biography.
Authors, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Louise Reimer.

Volume 17 Number 5
1989 September

When the prestigious Atlantic Monthly prize was awarded in 1927 novel entitled ialna, a relatively unknown Canadian author found herself catapulted to international literary stardom. For Mazo de la Roche, popularity brought with it the glare of publicity and an avid curiosity about her personal life. Her response was to take deliberate steps to conceal the real circumstances of her private life; she became a master at withholding information and obfuscating the truth. Even her 1959 autobiography, Ringing the Changes, proved an exercise in deception, containing as much imaginative embellishment as actual fact. Her upbringing, her curious relationship with her cousin and lifelong companion, Caroline Clement, and her adoption in mid-life of two small children all remained under the shroud of secrecy.

In this splendid piece of literary detection, Joan Givner (author of a previous literary biography, Katherine Anne Porter: A Life (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1984) brings the techniques of literary psychology and feminist criticism to bear upon this enigmatic personality. Through meticulous research, well-reasoned speculation, and an analysis of de la Roche's writings as an expression of her psyche, Givner pieces together the puzzle bit by bit. The result is a fascinating portrait of a woman whose non-conformist life-style and ambivalence abut her sexual and social identity were vigilantly protected from public scrutiny.

General readers and students of literature will find this biography every bit as enthralling as the lives of the Whiteoaks themselves. Highly recommended for public and high school libraries.

Louise Reimer, Edmonton Public Library, Edmonton, AB.
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