The Colour of Water

Patty Osborne

I almost didn’t read Luanne Armstrong’s book The Colour of Water (Caitlin) because the cover put me off, but when I was reminded of how much I had enjoyed an earlier Armstrong book, Annie, I gave the new one a chance. The Colour of Water covers four generations of a family who live in what we in B.C. call the Kootenays, a land of small towns and big mountains, cold snowy winters and hot dry summers. There’s nothing extraordinary about the Mangertons: they’re just an ordinary family whose generations get a little mixed up when Kathryn, the matriarch, takes over the raising of her grandson because Mary, his single mother, could not cope and has run away to Vancouver. Nothing shocking about that, until Mary returns home and manages to get herself drowned. Her death leaves behind unanswered questions and unresolved resentments that haunt the rest of the family, even as they lead normal lives, grow up, get married and have children of their own. The book opens when it looks like Kathryn will finally succumb to old age, but the story weaves back and forth through time and between narrators so that we get a multi-faceted picture of a tangled family. The story of the Mangertons is as tied closely to its landscape as to its characters, and these elements combine to give us a vivid picture of life in the Kootenays.

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