Thursday, September 02, 2010

Lynes' Factory Voice

The Factory Voice / Jeanette Lynes
Regina: Coteau Books, c2009.
288 p.

This story is set in the Second World War, when women are helping to build Mosquitos (airplanes) for the War Effort. It's set in Fort William, Northern Ontario, home of an airplane factory, and has a wide cast of characters from all levels of society -- rich and poor, men and women, Finns, Englishmen, Canadians and more. The story takes inspiration from real life facts -- like the car factory in Fort William which was retooled into an airplane factory in WWII, or the life of aviation pioneer Elizabeth (Elsie)Macgill, the first female aeronautical engineer in Canada. But those facts only serve as supports for Lynes' high-flying creations within the book; she doesn't stick slavishly to real-life details, rather using them to colour the atmosphere of this novel.

It is a fun read, full of energy and great female characters. There are four main characters, and the story focuses on each in turn. They are: Audrey Foley, escaping from a distasteful arranged marriage to her family's farmhand in Spruce Grove, Alberta; Ruby Kozak, secretary at the airplane factory and editor of the internal newsletter, the eponymous Factory Voice; Florence Voutilanien, line worker on probation due to her mother's affiliation with the Red Finns; and finally Muriel McGregor, loosely inspired by Elsie Macgill. Other characters, mostly men but a few female relatives as well, swirl around these women and make up a rich background to the war years, years in which all four of these women find love, or find themselves.

The setting is strongly evoked: the clothing descriptions, the language (expressions like "swell", "dilly", and so on), the role of the young men who are signing up to go overseas, the expectations of the characters, all these seem to place us in a snappy version of the 40's. Lynes is very successful at creating the world of the factory, and each character's participation in the events of the story. The landscape of Northern Ontario is also a big part of the story; and those Mosquitos are aptly named.

Audrey opens the book, and her overeager, enthusiastic, wild voice is entertaining as she flees the story she's stuck with in Alberta, to climb to the most exalted post she can claim, that of snack cart girl. She is befriended by the glamorous Veronica Lake-like Ruby, who wants to use Audrey as her 'eyes and ears' on the factory floor. Sadly enough, Audrey is disillusioned pretty quickly by Ruby's single minded pursuit of a 'big story' -- Ruby has aspirations to investigative journalism, not just an existence as a newsletter editor. Meanwhile, Muriel struggles to figure out new possibilities for cold-weather airplane landing gear, while dealing with her attractions to two different men from her past. Poor Florence, large and ungainly, suffers with a crush on the smooth talking Johnny, and is surprised by her eventual and unexpected relationship with him. I enjoyed how each character sorts out both their romantic relationships and the thorny paths of female friendship, as well as figuring out the role that work plays in their lives. As this was an historical moment when women finally had more working options, I thought that making that issue central to these women's lives was timely and also really interesting!

There is a lot going on in this fast-paced novel, and it is entertaining and very evocative of the period. As the book description says:

Wrapped around the stories of these four women, is a mystery. Something’s gone wrong with the Mosquitoes being built for the war effort -- they keep crashing in flight tests, for no apparent reason. Is the problem with their design, or are they being sabotaged? By whom? The traitorous Red Finns? The political subversives who have recently escaped from one of the nearby prison camps? Everyone’s on high alert and “The Factory Voice” keeps abreast of the details or at least the rumours.
I think that summary pretty much covers it. This is a light read, lots of action and interest and WWII details, but by no means a serious, heavy book. I read it quickly and enjoyed the characters. It was rather refreshing to come across a book set in WWII that wasn't all about the horror and the European experience, but was rather about the Canadian home front and the lives of the women left to take care of everything. And I really loved the cover ;)

Other Voices:

KevinfromCanada says it was certainly fun to read and I have not been able to say that about many books lately.

Carla of Bound to Write highly recommends it as a delightful book, and she reviews it in the Globe & Mail

Jenn's Book Bag states I relished this novel. I enjoyed both the lead female characters, as well as the minor male ones... To sum it up, “keep ‘em flying” Ms. Lynes!

Jeanette Lynes is an award-winning author and has published half a dozen collections of her poetry. The Factory Voice is her first published work of fiction.

She has served in writer-in-residence positions in Saskatoon and Dawson Creek, BC. She holds a Ph.D in English from York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

She currently lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.


  1. I had known about this book (might have even had it on my library list at one point) but it somehow dropped off my radar. Thanks for reminding me of it. :)

  2. I like the coveer, too...I'm a sucker for shoes.

    And I love reading about all of the Canadian fiction that you read.

  3. This sounds like something I should read. I love that it's Canadian, about the war and *gasp* light! 3 things that don't usually go together.

  4. So many of Coteau's books have insta-appeal for me; this one sounds especially good.

  5. Sassymonkey - glad to know I could remind you of a lovely book!

    Softdrink - I love those little boot/shoes as well :) And thanks for saying that you enjoy the Canadiana - I always wonder if non-Canadians are at all interested in any of these titles

    Chris - yes, unusual, and entertaining

    Buried in Print - I love Coteau - such good taste ;)


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