Hunting Down Home

by Jean McNeil,
ISBN: 1857998707

Post Your Opinion
First Novels - This Month, a Brood of Ten
by Eva Tihanyi

Jean McNeil's Hunting Down Home (Douglas & McIntyre, 224 pages, $19.99 paper) takes "the family: an epic of banalities" and shows how tragic it can be. One thing this novel is most assuredly not is banal, mostly because of McNeil's portrait of the three central characters: eight-year-old Morag and her grandparents, Sandy and Christine. Their daughter-Morag's mother-has taken off to Africa, abandoning Morag, born out of wedlock, to the very life she herself was so eager to leave behind.

Sandy and Christine compete continually for Morag's affection and loyalty as their volatile marital drama unfolds. Sandy even goes so far as to "kidnap" her, planning to escape to Australia. Eventually, however, they end up back home on Cape Breton Island, and the friction between the grandparents intensifies, culminating finally in a pivotal, life-changing event.

McNeil's love-hate portrait of the complex Sandy is her most notable achievement. An alcohol-abusing wife-beater, a musician and a dreamer, he loves his granddaughter, claims she is the only one in the world who loves him. By turns he elicit pity, contempt, empathy, disgust, occasionally even a moment of grudging admiration. Morag, who narrates the story from an adult point of view, understands both her grandparents with a gut-wrenching clarity, senses that their roles form an interlocking pattern from which neither can-nor perhaps really wants to-escape: "It was his structure, that of the lover and the hitter, and hers was bound up in that too." Morag sees Christine as "the ascendant" who is "going up and up," the martyr who will eventually win through sheer endurance.

Despite her occasional lapse into forced poetry and literary selfconsciousness ("I am a Canadian. I survive every winter, so I know I can survive anything") and her difficulty manipulating time (the flashbacks are sometimes confusing), McNeil, a twenty-eight-year-old Cape Bretoner now living in London, England, has written a lyrical, emotionally charged first novel.


Home First Novel Award Past Winners Subscription Back Issues Timescroll Advertizing Rates
Amazon.ca/Books in Canada Bestsellers List Books in Issue Books in Department About Us