Tent of Blue, Rachael Preston's richly conceived first novel,
seduces readers with images of captivity and escape. Passing back
and forth through time, the novel has its beginnings in England
before and during the Second World War. The present is a somewhat
seedy mansion-turned-apartment in Vancouver's Shaughnessy
neighbourhood and the beaches of Kitsilano and Jericho in the
1950s. The future, or at least the fantasy, is the unattainable
Salt Spring Island. In this astonishing novel, Preston creates
characters that are trapped by cruelty, poverty, war, and their own
minds and bodies. Gradually they awaken to the fact that they carry
within themselves the possibility of freedom and the power to
achieve it. The novel's images of war-torn beaches, cold, dank
theatres, and travelling by bicycle through the streets of
Vancouver will linger with readers long after the book is closed.
The book tells the story of Anton, a boy of almost sixteen, who
suffers the challenges of a clubfoot and Yvonne, his mother, a
dance teacher who spent her youth in the decayed music halls of
1930s England. Grotesquely mistreated by her drunken mother,
fourteen-year-old Yvonne finds fleeting freedom with a Russian-born
dancer. After his death, needing to provide for herself and Anton,
she falls into the grip of a brutal impresario and eventually
migrates to Montreal and shortly thereafter to Vancouver. Yvonne
alternately spurns and smothers her son as she plays the only two
roles she knows: victim and victimizer. Both have been imprisoned
their whole lives: Yvonne by her fear of her abusive mother, of
losing her lover, and of Harold, the man who sweeps her into his
control and makes her his wife. Anton has been a prisoner of his
physical handicap, of Yvonne's unhappiness, and of Harold's hold on
both his and his mother's life. In their Vancouver apartment,
Yvonne and Anton struggle to live heroically despite the scathing
violence of love. Yvonne opens a dance school where she teaches her
few ballet students. Anton struggles for respect and independence
and finds a measure of freedom through his wheelchair and apartment
bound neighbour, Tom Hart, a World War I vet, who supplies Anton
with an old bicycle. Anton tries to return the favour in the only
way that he can imagine. Dickensian in its complexity, Tent of Blue
marks the career debut of a fascinating new Canadian writer.
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