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Pauline Holdstock
Vancouver, New Star Books, 1991. 96pp, paper, $9.95
ISBN 0-921586-25-6. CIP

Grades 12 and up/Ages 17 and up

Reviewed by Sharon A. McLennan McCue

Volume 20 Number 3
1992 May

Pauline Holdstock's first book, The Blackbird's Song, was short listed for the Books in Canada First Novel Award. The sort of talent that put her in that position is readily apparent in this novella.

The story takes place on the west coast of Canada during the 1860s. The story is not new but the presentation is original. A young priest leaves the relative comfort of Victoria to travel up the coast of British Columbia to live among the "savages" and save them from the evils of their pagan religion and convert them to a much more civilized Christianity.

This book would make a fascinating comparison with Brian Moore's Black Robe. The lack of understanding on the part of the priests with regard to those whose souls they were "saving" seems almost incomprehensible today. The difference is that Holdstock's priest never really questions his faith. In a sense, that makes him harder to understand, for while he is attached to the people and says that he would rather be with them than in Victoria, there is insufficient character development to allow the reader to under­stand why.

The book's strength lies in its language, which often seems more like poetry than prose. Its construction, which gives us not only the priest's point of view but also that of each of the major characters, can leave the reader confused. Holdstock is an accom­plished craftswoman but there is simply not enough text for her to carry off this ever-changing point of view as effectively as she might have done if she had taken the time to develop those characters a little more fully. As is, the book is certainly worth reading and more than worthy of being added to a collection.

Sharon A. McLennan McCue, Ottawa, Ont.

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