CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 11 . . . .January 19, 2007
Jalna, located in southern Ontario, is the impressive rural home of the Whiteoak family. Jalna, the first of a 16-novel saga, follows the lives of the members of this family over a period of a year. At 99 years of age, Grandmother, a widow, still presides over the family: two doting and elderly sons, a granddaughter – Meg, unmarried and pushing 40 – and five grandsons, ranging in age from 37-year-old Renny to nine-year-old Wakefield. Over the course of the year, two of the brothers – poet, Eden and farmer, Piers – marry. Eden's marriage delights the family, who mistakenly assume that his American bride, Alayne, is an independently wealthy heiress. Piers's match, however, is the source of great consternation, since the young bride, Pheasant, is the illegitimate child of Meg's former fiancé. During the course of the novel, Alayne discovers that her love for Eden is not as true as her love for his older brother, Renny. And the formerly detached bachelor, Renny, is likewise smitten by Alayne. Meanwhile, Eden develops a physical attraction to Piers' new wife. Matters come to a head when 16-year-old Finch discovers Eden and Pheasant making love in the "birch wood" and then informs Piers.
Mazo de la Roche wrote Jalna back in 1928, but today's soap-opera loving audience would still find this 356-page yarn a quick and easy read. In each chapter, the omniscient narrator views life at Jalna through the eyes of a different character. Behaviour that was probably considered shocking in 1928 is now far more commonplace yet still makes for a compelling read. The novel begins with a day in the life of sickly young Wakefield, the thoroughly charming and benignly manipulative "idler, liar, thief, [and] wastrel." After Wakefield convinces Mrs. Brawn, a local shop-keeper to whom he already owes 13 cents, to give him a bottle of lemon soda on credit, Mrs. Brawn notes:
All of Mazo de la Roche's characters are similarly well-rounded and credible given the historical context. Though not particularly thought-provoking, it's not difficult to see how Jalna, out of print for 30 years until now, became a bestseller in its day. As noted previously, readers who want more of the Whiteoak family can make their way through another 15 books. Morning at Jalna, the last in the series, was published in 1960, a year before Mazo de le Roche's death.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and editor of children's stories.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.