The Custodian of Paradise, Wayne Johnston
Knopf Canada, 510 pages
Sheilagh Fielding is an unmistakeable presence in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Six foot three and beautiful, she winds her way into all of the city’s nooks and crannies and exposes the injustices she finds in the local paper. Everyone in St. John’s reads her column, but she is welcome nowhere, for her superior intelligence and ruthless wit render her too great a threat to the happinesss of too many. As a result, Fielding moves through life alone as the consummate observer until the day a stranger reveals his longstanding role as her protector.
In the midst of the Second World War, Fielding learns of the death of the son nobody else in Newfoundland knew existed. She sails to the deserted island of Loreburn, alone but for two trunks of Scotch and a third filled with letters and diaries, to come to terms with her past. Abandoned by her mother at six, raised by a man few believe to be her real father, Fielding has grown up in a world where love has been synonymous with betrayal. When Fielding becomes pregnant with twins at fifteen, her father sends her away to New York to stay with her mother, who intends to claim the babies as her own. Fielding returns to St. Johns even more of an outcast than she was before she went away, and in her solitude, she learns to forge her own path as the city’s truth-teller. On Loreburn, she examines the forces that have shaped her life and seeks to resolve her unanswered questions.
A haunting study of an unforgettable character, The Custodian of Paradise will appeal to readers who enjoyed Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards and No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod.