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The Silences of Home
Caitlin Sweet
Penguin Canada, 496 pages

Ted Nasmith
The Silences of Home
Caitlin Sweet
Caitlin Sweet is a graduate of McGill University, Montreal. After graduation she taught English as a second language in southern Mexico. Her first novel, A Telling of Stars was published to great acclaim in January 2003. The Quill & Quire called it "an impressive debut," and The Edmonton Journal wrote, "It's a strong first novel that should have readers waiting for Sweet's next." A Telling of Stars made the Jury's Recommended Reading list at the 2004 Sunburst Awards, and was a finalist for the 2004 Best Long-Form Work in English at the Aurora Awards. From 1998 until 2003, she worked as an administrative assistant at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband and their two daughters.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

The Silences of Home first and foremost confirms the adage that one can never really go home again. This is a theme for virtually every character, literally or figuratively. Lanara, a young queenswoman can't go home because the great queen she thought she knew has proven to be a sham and this has led to her best friend's death. Nellyn, a member of an quasi-amphibian race is shunned Amish-like when he leaves then returns to his riverine community devoted to the status quo. Aldron a teller of the Alilan race, is banished for using his special telling powers, and dies miserably in a foreign land trying to undo his work. Leish and Mallesh, both members of a sea-side race bent on conquering the Queensrealm, return to a homeland, the latter after months of excruciating tortures, that is a burned out, sterile landscape. Baldrhon, the scribe and revolutionary leader, cannot go back to the sea-side life of his early childhood, as his obsession to expose the truth of the corrupt regime consumes him utterly. Even Alea's return to her people, while it does occur, follows a series of heartbreaks. While this is no noir novel, certainly it isn't a happy one.

Caitlin Sweet does deftly weave the many storylines, and the writing is quite literate, yet still eminently readable. One does have the chance to see the characters develop emotionally, surmount difficulties, and form attachments to one another; however, the big question is why tell us of all these people whose lives are ultimately ruined by one queen's folly. Besides the story ending on a "downer" for almost every character, one wonders exactly what the overall message or theme was (even the theme postulated above is not explicit), the novel seems in a sense more a documentary of the downfall of the Queensrealm, than a narrative. One way or another what the author wishes us to take from the novel is not made explicit. This either suggests a sequel/prequel in the works, that some of these questions were covered in Sweet's previous book A Telling of Stars, or simply that we are not in the presence of an easy Hollywood-happy-ending. Well, now that I think about it, maybe it is indeed a noir novel... Cornell Woolrich meets Ursula K. Le Guin.

Bring out the mysogynist labels if you will, but I must admit to having had trouble with most of the male characters in the novel. They tended to be physically weak, sneaky rather than bold and up-front about things, indecisive, easily led by women -- not a Conan or a Beowulf in the bunch, except for one character whom Lanara quickly tells off. Some of the male characters show courage and bravery of sorts, but then revert to snivelling, pettiness and bemoaning their fate. One way or another, The Silences of Home seems to be a novel better suited to women than men.

Copyright © 2005 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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