Review: Anna From Away — D.R. MacDonald

Read: 10
To Go: 90

Book List:
1. The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
2. The Pilot’s Wife — Anita Shreve
3. Creatures of Light and Darkness — Roger Zelazny
4. What We All Long For — Dionne Brand
5. The Guilty Plea — Robert Rotenberg
6. Stray Bullets — Robert Rotenberg
7. Sweet Tooth — Ian McEwan
8. The Lost Wife — Alyson Richman
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist — Mohsin Hamid
10. Anna From Away — D.R. MacDonald

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Today is a double-review day, because between Thursday and Sunday I finished both Anna From Away by D.R. MacDonald, and Blue Monday by Nicci French (and haven’t had the time to sit down and review them until now). My reviews may be a little fuzzy and/or lacking in some way, partially because it’s been a couple of days since I finished the books, and partially because I’ve already started a new one (Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill), so I’m more focused on that.

When Anna Starling flees her dissolving marriage in California in favour of restarting her art career in Cape Breton Island, her life intersects with Murdock MacLennan, a solitary man who recently lost the love of his life, Rosaire, to cancer. Surrounded by the echoes of the island’s past inhabitants, Murdock and Anna start to heal from their past pains through their budding friendship. But when a bale of marijuana washes up on Anna’s shore, her relationship with Murdock becomes strained, and they both come under suspicion of the local drug smugglers.

I wish I could say something intelligent or kind about Anna From Away, but the honest truth is that it took me two weeks to read — not just because I was reading piecemeal at the call centre where I work, but because it was so painfully boring. Roughly two thirds of the novel could be characterized as excessive description of Cape Breton island in the winter, interspersed with Anna’s history in California or an occasional heartbreaking musing from Murdock about how much he missed Rosaire. In those moments, MacDonald shone as a writer — I was interested in Anna’s story, and I felt Murdock’s pain as keenly as I would have felt my own. But reading endless description about the weather in Cape Breton felt like slogging through a marsh.

Eventually the story saw some action, but it took a while to get there. All the superfluous description made the book’s pacing really suffer, so by the time I actually got to the meat of the story — the (admittedly low-stakes) drug-smuggling ring that Anna found herself in the middle of, and accidentally pulled Murdock into — I just didn’t care. It didn’t mean much to me. I just wanted to finish the book and get it over with.

MacDonald’s strength was in his characters, and the expression of their emotions. The book’s best moments are in Anna’s introspections and Murdock’s longing for Rosaire, and the few scenes when they share their pain with each other. But the tenderness in those moments was drowned out by a wash of scenery description that I didn’t need, and didn’t care for.

Next book: Blue Monday by Nicci French. The review is on its way.

– Kelsey

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