The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston’s breakthrough novel based on the life of Newfoundland’s first premier, Joe Smallwood, was published internationally and in several languages. It earned him nominations for the highes The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Wayne Johnston’s breakthrough novel based on the life of Newfoundland’s first premier, Joe Smallwood, was published internationally and in several languages. It earned him nominations for the highest fiction prizes in Canada, and is regarded as a masterpiece of historical fiction by critics and readers alike. One of the most highly praised elements of the novel is the character Sheilagh Fielding, a Dorothy Parker-like woman with whom Smallwood shares a lifelong love-hate relationship. Reviewers called her "Johnston’s most compelling character," (Publishers Weekly) and "easily one of the more original characters in fiction" (Library Journal).
In his new book, The Custodian of Paradise, Johnston builds on the story he began in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and gives us a riveting narrative with Sheilagh Fielding at its heart. At the beginning of the novel, Fielding — advancing on middle age, hobbled by disfigurement and personal demons — is headed for Loreburn, a deserted island off the south coast of Newfoundland. She has chosen the island after an extensive search through census records, which confirmed that it once had a small town of which only boarded-up houses remain; it is now home to not a single soul. Fielding has no idea what to expect of Loreburn, yet she brings two enormous trunks with her and plans for an extended stay.
Fielding has borne a lifetime of estrangement and heartbreak by setting herself apart from the rest of St. John’s society, and by relying on her eccentricity and wit to keep others at bay. By cultivating her isolation, she’s been able to escape the world’s “swirling surfeit of detail” and write, both in her journals and for the Telegram. And by skirting Prohibition laws, she’s also been able to dull the pain of her early years. Fielding’s mother had deserted her husband and only child when Fielding was just six years old, with no explanation. Unable to figure out why a woman would abandon her child, her father was left tormented by the question of Fielding’s paternity. She is six-foot-three and nothing at all like him . . . can she possibly be his child? And when Fielding fell briefly and terribly in love as a teenager, she was left, ultimately, more alone than ever. And alone she remains — that is, except for the mysterious stranger she calls her Provider, who has shadowed her ever since she made a mysterious pilgrimage to her mother’s house in New York City more than two decades earlier.
Gradually, we learn what has brought her to this wild island. As Fielding revisits her articles, letters and journals, we are swept up in her tumultuous life’s journey and the mystery of this Provider’s identity. From the downtrodden streets of New York’s immigrant neighbourhoods to the sanatorium where she fights TB, from the remote workers’ shacks of the Bonavista rail line to the underbelly of wartime St. John’s, the Provider seems to have devoted himself to charting Fielding’s every move and to sending her maddeningly cryptic letters about his role in her life. Yet he has also protected her at times, and their correspondence, as it develops, becomes a form of sustenance for Fielding. While she fears that he may have followed her to Loreburn, she fears even more that he may not be able to find her there.
With The Custodian of Paradise, Wayne Johnston continues his masterful exploration of life in pre-Confederation Newfoundland, and of the powerful forces that give rise to great character — individualism, circumstance, and secrecy; memory, loss, and regret.
I look out across the water which some days, depending on the size of the pond and the strength of the wind, is whitecapped, the waves all racing away from me towards the distant shore.
The water, because the sky is uniformly overcast, is grey, even black. And all around the water the treeless boulder-littered bog of Bonavista. Blueberry bushes, their leaves a russet red, bobbing in the wind, the few remaining alder leaves crackling like bits of ancient parchment. –from The Custodian of Paradise...Continua Nascondi