Jane Urquhart’s 1993 novel Away is the seventh book that the artists of the Open Book Art Collective have read together. Away traces the lives of four generations of women across landscapes: from the rocky coasts of mid-19th century Ireland, devastated by potato blight, to the slums of Montreal, to present-day shores of Lake Ontario. While traversing lands and histories, Away lyrically explores the complexities of our relationship to the land.
Urquhart’s characters navigate landscapes that both enchant them and prove devastatingly harsh. Away’s themes of displacement, industry and connection to the land resonate with contemporary realities of refugee crises, indigenous rights and the unfettered development that is pushing the earth to the brink of environmental collapse. As an elderly woman tells her granddaughter at the beginning of the novel, “By the time I finish this story you will have decided to hug the land — the real earth — the trees in the orchard, the timbers of this house. You will have decided never to go away.”
The broad themes of place are set alongside the intimate details of women’s lives whose stories form the heart of this narrative. These characters navigate landscapes of family, politics, race, and nation while always seeking to realize their identities as women. “Away,” writes reviewer Tania Glyde, “is a ravishing evocation of the lives of those whose souls are irrevocably touched by nature. It is also, subtly and cunningly, about female independence.”