Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sanctuary Line

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sanctuary Line

Article excerpt

Jane Urquhart, Sanctuary Line (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart/Emblem, 2011), 288 pp. Cased. $29.99. ISBN 978-0-7710-8646-5. Paper. $22. ISBN 978-0-7710-8648-9.

Throughout her writing career, Jane Urquhart has been concerned with the relationship between Canadians and their history. In her early works, Urquhart explored the dangers of nostalgia as her main characters became paralysed by past events and experiences. In more recent works, she has turned her attention to different forms of commemoration and the dangers of forgetfulness. Despite this seeming change in her attitude toward the past, Urquhart continues to emphasise questions not only about what we remember, but how we remember those things and why. In many ways, Urquhart's most recent novel reads like an attempt to answer the ethical questions surrounding our need to construct idealised personal and national identities through a process of selectively remembering and forgetting elements of the past.

Sanctuary Line identifies the ways in which communal narratives attempt to create a clear path between our past and our present: such narratives provide us with a series of shared memories or stories, and establish clear boundaries between potentially ambiguous categories such as 'right' and 'wrong', or 'us' and 'them'. In doing so, however, Urquhart also demon- strates that such absolutes are often dangerously reductive and designed to exclude any point of view that does not adhere to the dominant perspective. Through narrator Liz Crane's struggles to come to terms with the 'ghosts' of her past by giving voice to their conflicting narratives, Sanctuary Line suggests an alternative approach to remembering our histories and, by extension, constructing both personal and national identities. …

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