Monday, April 23, 2012

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

"A masterpiece and one of my all-time favourites." 

That's a quote from Debbie @ ExUrbanis who recently featured on Alyce's 'Best and Worst of' meme. I had never heard of Richard B Wright or this book but the recommendation was enough to send me searching , and finding, a copy in the library. Now having read it I would have to agree with her sentiments.

Set in the latter half of the 1930's it is the story of two sisters, Clara and Nora Callan who have been raised in a small Ontario town. Following the death of their father,  Clara, the quieter and plainer sister, continues to live in the family home and teach school although deep down she longs for romance and adventure. Nora, an aspiring actress, escapes to the bright lights of the big city, New York, where she eventually lands a starring role in a radio soap, a romanticized drama of supposedly small-town life, while back home Clara lives the reality of petty gossip and old -fashioned attitudes.

The story is told through the letters Clara writes to and receives from her sister with the occasional addition of letters from others, and excerpts from her personal journal. It's a moving and emotional picture of life - the everyday routines and the larger events which change and shape a person forever.
In the background, a vivid and detailed portrait of the 1930's, when people found escape from the Depression through radio and the movies, when the Dionne quintuplets made the headlines and a worldwide sigh of relief was heard when Neville Chamberlain announced 'there will be peace in our time'.

Clara records in her journal the music she plays and listens to, the movies she goes to on Saturdays and the books she reads.There are lots of lovely literary allusions and I particularly loved this first one which shows how very different the sisters were.
" Went to a big bookstore on Fifth Avenue and bought cheap but good copies of Keat's letters, Boswell's Life of Johnson, a collection of Heine's poetry and A Brief History of Modern Italy.Nora bought a copy of Gone With the Wind, the Civil War novel that, according to her, "everyone in New York is reading." It would certainly appear so judging from the bookstore windows which are filled with copies."
And this one which sent me scurrying off to download it to my Kindle.
" .... but the book I loved the most was Turgenev's A Sportsman's sketches. It's odd in a way, for it seems to be a man's book: a rich idle landowner walks about the Russian countryside with his dogs, hunting wild fowl and talking to the peasants a hundred years ago, but Turgenev's style is so wonderfully lyrical in these stories."
It's a multi-layered book touching on many interesting and thought-provoking issues of the time. I was engrossed from the first page, could hardly bear to put it down and was sad to turn that final page.

A beautiful book - I loved it!


  1. I'm tempted.. sounds very good. Especially the radio soap. Will look for this one. Thanks.

    1. I hope you'll like it - it really captures the 1930's.

  2. I read this ages ago and loved it.... your post makes me want to read it again!

    1. It's always nice to find an older book that slipped under the radar - this was worth waiting for - I loved it too.