Monday, May 17, 2010

Choyce's Seven Ravens

Seven Ravens: Two Summers in a life by the sea / Lesley Choyce
Toronto: Wolsak & Wynn, c2009.
200 p.

This is another book I was graciously sent by the publisher and have taken far too long to mention here! I read it at least a month ago, and quite enjoyed it. I like Lesley Choyce's sensibility and have talked about one of my favourite of his novels previously (The Republic of Nothing).

This book is a memoir of sorts, a study of two summers in which Choyce dealt with emotional upheaval by walking and writing, two methods he feels help to ground him in his own life. We are fortunate to be able to eavesdrop on him throughout his efforts, as he discusses kayaking, rehabilitating wildlife, writing (or trying to), speaking at public events, and generally observing the world around him.

He has a unique voice, and a facility for describing a writer's life which is rural rather than urban. He has decided that he is going to follow seven ravens as far as they take him each time he sets out for a walk, and this attempt leads him to various locales around his home. He says he intends "to write in my notebook each time I see a raven. I will assure myself that something significant, something vital, will happen at each point along the way until I am seven ravens from home. And at that point, I turn around and return."

One memorable location for me was under a pine tree as it rains around him, on the hills and on the sea. As he writes and notices the very old and very odd NO FISHING sign nearby, the setting comes alive, leaving me feeling as if my hair was curling in the humidity and my toes were getting damp. He also visits his tangled garden, and the downtown area of Halifax where he is going to teach a writing class. In all of these settings he acts like a naturalist, observing and noting down all the peculiar behaviours and strange living things which exist there.

He also has many of the same concerns as I do, primarily to do with writing and reading. He talks about his writing process and about the value of reading. For example:

For, while writing is an act of discovery and an attempt to understand, record and pass on the experiences of living, reading is also an act of resurrection. To write is to live; to read is to give new blue jay wings to every moment of awareness that has come before.
This is a calm and quiet read, one that encourages reflection and observation. I really enjoyed it, and find Choyce's realistic and unsentimental portrayal of living as a part of the natural world a satisying approach. This was an intriguing read, which I wish I would have reviewed sooner... my slowness in talking about it does not reflect my enjoyment of it.


  1. It sounds like the sort of quiet, contemplative book I would like- especially with the nature observations.

  2. Seven ravens from home - I'd be enchanted no matter what the book held! This will be on my list - thanks for the review!

  3. I grew up reading Lesley Choyce as he's a fellow Nova Scotian so good to hear about this new book!

  4. Jeane - it's not exactly contemplative - Choyce is quite an eccentric guy. But I found it calming and thought-provoking, and certainly not a 'noisy' book

    teabird - I like his method of creating randomness in his walks - ravens, gardens, is all quite fascinating

    Bronwyn - if you already like Choyce you have to read this one (that is why I wanted to pick it up, I've enjoyed his fiction so much)


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