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The Whirlpool
Cover of The Whirlpool
The Whirlpool
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Written in luminous prose, The Whirlpool is a haunting tale set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the summer of 1889. This is the season of reckless river stunts, a time when the undertaker's widow is busy...
Written in luminous prose, The Whirlpool is a haunting tale set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the summer of 1889. This is the season of reckless river stunts, a time when the undertaker's widow is busy...
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Description-

  • Written in luminous prose, The Whirlpool is a haunting tale set in Niagara Falls, Ontario, in the summer of 1889. This is the season of reckless river stunts, a time when the undertaker's widow is busy with funerals, her days shadowed by her young son's curious silence. Across the street in Kick's Hotel, where Fleda and her husband, David McDougal, have temporary rooms, Fleda dreams of the place above the whirlpool where she first encountered the poet, a man who enters her life and, unwittingly, changes everything. As the summer progresses, the lives of these characters become entangled, and darker, more sinister currents gain momentum.

    The Whirlpool, Jane Urquhart's first novel, received Le prix du meilleur livre étranger (Best Foreign Book Award) in France and marked the brilliant debut of a major voice in Canadian fiction.

    From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    At Halstead in England, during the last half of the nineteenth century, employees at Courtauld Limited wove secret cloth on secret looms in secret factories. Warp, woof . . . warp, woof. Like makers of Venetian glass they were devoted to their craft and frightened of their masters. They took, therefore, the coveted recipe for crape with them to their graves. The Courtaulds held the monopoly in mourning garb; it was the key to their immense fortune, and they wanted to make absolutely sure that they kept it.The workers -- mute, humble, and underpaid -- spent twelve hours a day, in hideous conditions, at their steam-powered looms pounding black silk threads into acres of unpleasant cloth. In ten years, enough crape had been produced to completely cover the province of Quebec. In twenty, the whole empire could have been wrapped; a depressing parcel with a black sheen.

    Still, death being what it is, there was often not enough cloth to go around. After major epidemics, or during wars, women would be forced to have their mourning attire made of less prestigious fabrics; bombazine or, in desperation, black cotton or wool. Men never had this problem. The same black hat-band did well for each bereavement.

    Real crape did not hang down in smooth, graceful folds like cotton. It did not cuddle like wool. It encased the female body, instead, in a suit of crumpled armour, tarnished to a dull black. It scraped at the neck and dug at the armpits. It clung to the limbs and rasped at the shoulder blades. It lacerated the spine if that series of bones ever dared to relax. And it smelled, always, of grave mud and sorrow.

    In Niagara Falls, Canada, the undertaker's widow, Maud Grady, was forced to wrap herself in real Courtauld crape. No cheap, comfortable imitations for her; she felt duty bound to set an example. The perfect symbol of animate deep mourning, she wore crimped crape for two full years, adding, when the first few months had passed, some jet beads and a small amount of fringe to her costume. Much of her average day was spent organizing the paraphernalia of bereavement: black parasol, black stockings, underwear edged in black ribbon, black-framed stationery, black ink making black words, black sealing wax, black veil, black bonnet tied under the chin in a menacing black bow. The child, too, she dressed in crape for the first six months, moving to greys and mauves when that period was over.

    It hadn't been at all pleasant. Apart from the physical discomfort, there was the accompanying fear of weather; of heat and of precipitation. The smallest bit of moisture, fog, or even minor amounts of perspiration would cause the colour of the fabric to bleed through to her skin until, some nights when she undressed, her body looked as if it had been the victim of a severe beating. For a while she made use of a smelly concoction of tartar and oxalic acid in an attempt to remove the stains. Finally, however, despite a liberal sprinkling of rosewater, her whole bedroom reeked of chemicals. At that point she decided to let the black marks on her skin accumulate. Who would know? Who would care? She could fix it all later, if she survived.

    At night, she dreamed dreams about her dead husband. Often he appeared in the very bedroom where she slept to announce that he had just died and would be busy for the next few days embalming himself and arranging his own funeral. He always had a black band wound around his hat out of respect for his own passing and a look on his face of profound sorrow. Maud would offer him a cape made of crape but he would reject it, outright, as if it had been something intended for the opera. Guiltily, in the dream, after this refusal, Maud would...

About the Author-

  • Jane Urquhart is the author of five internationally acclaimed novels, including The Stone Carvers, a finalist for the 2001 Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award. She is also the author of a collection of short fiction and three books of poetry.

    Lynn Coady is the author of the novel Strange Heaven and a collection of short stories, Play the Monster Blind.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 30, 1990
    In her debut novel, Canadian poet Urquhart finds that the landscape and society on the Canadian side of late-19th-century Niagara Falls furnishes ample metaphor for an exploration of themes of obsession, withdrawal and the relationship of individuals to both society and nature. Bracketed by scenes of Robert Browning's last days in Venice, the story traces the interwoven lives of Patrick, a chronically ill clerk and would-be poet; blustery military historian and Americaphobe David MacDougal; his eccentric wife, Fleda, who spends her days in the woods, reading Browning's poetry; and Maude, the undertaker's widow with a mute four-year-old son. Urquhart reminds us that this era saw the end of romanticism as, against the backdrop of the river, its whirlpool and the forest, Patrick chooses to take refuge in his fantasies of Fleda rather than accept her offer of a real relationship. Fleda casts off social conventions and goes to live in the woods, at the same time that Maude, discarding the tokens of mourning, renews contact with her son, who begins in his own way to speak. Atmospheric and original, Urquhart's ambitious tale may cause readers to strain after its significance, but her accomplished prose and subtle characterization reward the effort.

  • Sandra Gwyn

    "A spell-binder, in the literal sense...Urquhart has brilliantly evoked the texture of a late Victorian summer and created within it a strange, yet entirely believable tale of obsession."

  • Canadian Fiction Magazine "A tightrope walk across the marvellous....In a tour de force of Canadian fiction, she plunges into the mysterious whirlpool of our collective psyches."
  • Globe and Mail "A jewel of a book: its finely polished facets are full of light, yet suggest numerous depths."
  • Timothy Findley "She is clearly a courageous stylist with a unique vision."

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