Hanne and Her Brother is a dynamic novel that plays with the distinctions between the light and dark sides of life, and though the subject matter is difficult at times, the tale never strays too far from the light. Stenson writes with whimsy, weaving rich, long sentences to capture the odyssey of Hanne Lemmons. Between her protective father, lack of siblings or friends, and isolated homeschooling, Hanne yearns for a companion to bring drama and excitement to her life. At sixteen, however, she is thrust into a journey of both hardships and personal discovery that takes her across Canada from the Cowichan Valley to Eastend, Saskatchewan.
The novel places Stenson firmly in the vibrant tradition of contemporary writers fascinated by the complexities of small town life. Though this tradition begins with George McKay Brown, Joyce Carey and Dylan Thomas in England, it is extended by our own western Canadian writers Ethel Wilson, Jack Hodgins, and Sandra Birdsell and painters like William Kureluk and E.J. Hughes. These artists create big, boisterous canvases that begin in realism but morph into something more mysterious and funny, a bold, ragged beauty full of character and country.
Stenson is enchanted by the landscapes of British Columbia and the prairies, and in the story, these landscapes are as magical as the characters who struggle to live in them. Hanne Lemmon’s story is a brawling tale of love and loss and strength, set in small towns and villages with a cast of characters as large with life and humour as the landscapes around them. There is a vast love beneath this novel that is contagious and irresistible and there is also a great subtlety to this tale that shudders in a renaissance clockwork beauty. Readers who like W.O. Mitchell, John Irving, Kent Haruf, or Per Petterson, will love Stenson’s new novel.
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