A Map of Glass

A Map of Glass

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by Jane Urquhart

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Jane Urquhart’s stunning new novel weaves two parallel stories, one set in contemporary Toronto and Prince Edward County, Ontario, the other in the nineteenth century on the northern shores of Lake Ontario.

Sylvia Bradley was rescued from her parents’ house by a doctor attracted to and challenged by her withdrawn ways. Their subsequent marriage has


Jane Urquhart’s stunning new novel weaves two parallel stories, one set in contemporary Toronto and Prince Edward County, Ontario, the other in the nineteenth century on the northern shores of Lake Ontario.

Sylvia Bradley was rescued from her parents’ house by a doctor attracted to and challenged by her withdrawn ways. Their subsequent marriage has nourished her, but ultimately her husband’s care has formed a kind of prison. When she meets Andrew Woodman, a historical geographer, her world changes.

A year after Andrew’s death, Sylvia makes an unlikely connection with Jerome McNaughton, a young Toronto artist whose discovery of Andrew’s body on a small island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River unlocks a secret in his own past. After Sylvia finds Jerome in Toronto, she shares with him the story of her unusual childhood and of her devastating and ecstatic affair with Andrew, a man whose life was irrevocably affected by the decisions of the past. At the breathtaking centre of the novel is the compelling tale of Andrew’s forebears. We meet his great-great-grandfather, Joseph Woodman, whose ambitions brought him from England to the northeastern shores of Lake Ontario, during the days of the flourishing timber and shipbuilding industries; Joseph’s practical, independent and isolated daughter, Annabel; and his son, Branwell, an innkeeper and a painter. It is Branwell’s eventual liaison with an orphaned French-Canadian woman that begins the family’s new generation and sets the stage for future events.

A novel about loss and the transitory nature of place, A Map of Glass is vivid with evocative prose and haunting imagery — a lake of light on a wooden table; a hotel gradually buried by sand; a fully clothed man frozen in an iceberg; a blind woman tracing her fingers over a tactile map. Containing all of the elements for which Jane Urquhart’s writing is celebrated, it stands as her richest, most accomplished novel to date.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Urquhart's passion for the past (The Stone Carvers) and the land (The Underpainters, winner of the Governor General's Award in Canada) are at full poetic play in this intricate story of love, loss and memory. Set in present-day Toronto and in the 19th-century world of rural Ontario timber barons, it opens with the wintry death of Alzheimer's sufferer Andrew, whose body, borne by an ice floe, runs aground on the small Lake Ontario island where artist Jerome McNaughton is seeking inspiration. The story steps back a century, to when Andrew's ancestors, owners of the same island, razed forests to build ships, then it jumps forward a year from the opening scene of Andrew's death, to when Sylvia, Andrew's married lover of 20 years, sets out to meet with Jerome, who discovered Andrew's body, and, through Jerome, to reconnect one last time with Andrew. Meanwhile, Jerome, the relationship-shy adult child of an abusive, alcoholic father, is slowly coming to trust that girlfriend Mira's love for him is real. Urquhart reveals all of their haunted personal histories in the lyrical first and third parts of the novel. But it's in the compact family-saga middle, where a slew of Andrew's memorable forebears take the stage, that this novel's luminous heart truly lies. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This multilayered novel focuses on Sylvia, a reclusive woman who suffers from a condition affecting her ability to relate to others. When a young artist named Jerome discovers the frozen body of Sylvia's lover, Andrew, on a remote island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, Sylvia conquers her affliction and travels to Toronto to meet Jerome, feeling compelled to speak to him of her life and her relationship with Andrew. The middle third of the novel is Andrew's reconstruction of the history of his timber-merchant family. The book starts slowly and quietly but rewards patient reading; at play here are big themes about the impermanence of everything: relationships, memory, possessions, civilizations, and even the landscape. Urquhart's evocative prose hypnotically weaves together the disparate threads of the story and allows the reader pleasure at discovering the connections. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Personal and family histories compromised by disability, estrangement and loss are painstakingly intertwined in the prizewinning Canadian author's sixth novel. As she did in her best-known earlier books, The Stone Carvers (2002) and The Underpainter (1997), Urquhart explores the psyches and sensibilities of people committed to unconventional forms of art. In this case, they are aging landscape geographer Andrew Woodman; a young "earth artist" (Jerome McNaughton) who attempts to capture in photographs Ontario's vanishing past; and bereaved protagonist Sylvia Bradley, victim of a debilitating borderline-autistic "condition," whose fear of imprecision and chaos takes the form of an obsession with maps. A splendid opening scene depicts Andrew en route to remote Timber Island (where his family had built a lumber empire), deep in the throes of Alzheimer's, lurching toward his death. Thereafter, his married lover Sylvia travels to meet with McNaughton (who had found Woodman's body, frozen in an iceberg)-and the process of unearthing the past and its secrets begins. The subjects explored are Jerome's search for permanence through art, in his failed love life and in a world he perceives vulnerable to continual change and decay; Sylvia's insular childhood, comfortable marriage to an older man whom she doesn't love and "awakening" in her relationship with Andrew; and-in the novel's best sequence-the story of the Woodman family. They're a cut above Faulkner's Snopeses: a clan of avaricious power-seekers, from whom Andrew had spent his life attempting escape. This is a load for any novelist to handle, and Urquhart achieves only mixed success. She's a wonderful scene-painter with an impressive masteryof the details of farm and village life. But her story flies in too many directions, and is hamstrung by appallingly portentous, theme-driven dialogue. At her best, this writer commands an impressive range of varied literary skills. But here, simpler would have been better.
From the Publisher
“She has claimed an urgent place as one of our most interesting and accomplished writers. . . .”
Globe and Mail

“Urquhart transforms the energy of the world into enduring literature.”
Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“She is clearly a courageous stylist, with a unique vision.”
— Timothy Findley

“[Her] language is vivid enough to take your breath away.”
Boston Globe

"The most compelling depiction of the sense of place in human lives."
— Alice Munro

"Hypnotic... [an] elegant and meditative novel about love, relationships, and the meaning of home."
— People magazine

"Tender, romantic and surprising.... An epic of love and loss with an intrigung twist."
Sunday Times

"Urquhart has a great gift for the historical novel, for the melding of ideas, events and individuals into a significant whole.... Highly compelling and illuminating...."
— Claire Messud, Globe and Mail

Product Details

MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Map of Glass

By Jane Urquhart

Random House

Jane Urquhart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0771087276

Chapter One

In a small town thirty miles down the lakeshore, a woman woke early. There was no sound coming from the street below. Darkness was still pressed against her bedroom windows.

Her husband was sleeping and did not stir as she slid from the bed, crossed the room, and walked down the hall to the bathroom where she had laid out her clothes the night before: the dark wool suit and grey silk shirt, the string of small pearls, the black tights, white underwear, and conventional cream-coloured slip, the sombre costume that she believed would ensure that no one would look at her, or look at her for very long. She took no special precautions as she washed and dressed, running the taps and opening the drawers as she would have on any other morning. Malcolm had been out on a night call and had not returned until 3 a.m. He would be sleeping deeply and would not waken for at least two more hours. By then she would be on the train, part of the journey completed.

She stood for some time in front of the open medicine cabinet in the bathroom, gazing at the plastic containers that held her various pills. Then she closed the door and stared at her own face in the mirror. Her fair hair, some of it grey now, was pulled back, and her face, she was relieved to see, was composed, her grey eyes were clear. She could not say whether it was an attractive face that looked back at her. Someone had once told her she was lovely and not, in some ways, that long ago, but she knew that her features, her expression had altered since.

The previous morning, after Malcolm had left for the clinic, she had filled an old suitcase with stockings, one blue skirt and cardigan, underwear, a few cosmetics, two well-used green leather notebooks, a plastic bag containing squares of felt, scraps of fabric and wool, one antique album, and a worn hardcover book. Then she had lifted the bag from the bed where she had packed it and had placed it in the unused cupboard of the spare room. The interior of the case was pink and had elasticized compartments under the satin-lined lid where, at one time or another, some long-dead woman must have kept hairbrushes and clothes brushes, and perhaps a bottle filled with liquid detergent for washing silk stockings. That woman may very well have been her own mother, but she couldn't be certain because as far as she knew her mother had never been a traveller. The people who lived in this rural County stayed home. Year after year, generation after generation. The geography of the County discouraged travel; trains no longer visited any of the pleasant towns of the peninsula where she had lived her entire life. She would have to drive for almost an hour to reach Belleville, the larger mainland town where she would catch the train that would take her to the city. The word city had hissed in her mind all week long, first as an idea, then as a possibility, and, finally, now as a certain destination.

Excerpted from A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart
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Meet the Author

Jane Urquhart was born in Little Long Lac, Ontario, and grew up in Toronto. She is the author of five internationally acclaimed novels: The Whirlpool, which received Le prix du meilleur livre étranger (Best Foreign Book Award) in France; Changing Heaven; Away, winner of the Trillium Award and a finalist for the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; The Underpainter, winner of the Governor General’s Award and a finalist for the Rogers Communications Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize; The Stone Carvers, which was a finalist for The Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award, and longlisted for the Booker Prize; and A Map of Glass, a finalist for a regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book. She is also the author of a collection of short fiction, Storm Glass, and four books of poetry, I Am Walking in the Garden of His Imaginary Palace, False Shuffles, The Little Flowers of Madame de Montespan, and Some Other Garden). Her work has been translated into numerous foreign languages. Urquhart has received the Marian Engel Award, and is a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Urquhart has received numerous honorary doctorates from Canadian universities and has been writer-in-residence at the University of Ottawa and at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and, during the winter and spring of 1997, she held the Presidential Writer-in-Residence Fellowship at the University of Toronto. She has also given readings and lectures in Canada, Britain, Europe, the U.S.A., and Australia.

Jane Urquhart lives in southwestern Ontario.

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Map of Glass 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book left me starving for more. What I loved about it so much was how 2 people from two different generations could have such similar background in art and the interest they pursued in the Canadian landscape. I also liked the link that was made between Sylvia's map making for Julia and Annabelle's facination with the old maps she found made by her father. I wish there was a sequel about the Ghost and Branwell bringing up Andrew's father in the Canadian country side. I cannot wait to here this on CD.
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