Lost in September by Kathleen Winter
Once again, summer has come to an end, fall is upon us, and The International Festival of Authors heads north from the Toronto harbour front to Georgian Bay’s Big Sound and the Charles W. Stockey Centre in Parry Sound. On the evening of Thursday 26 October we will welcome to the stage Catherine Chidgey from New Zealand, Bianca Marais from South Africa, and Canadian Kathleen Winter.
When I attended public school and high school half a century ago we learned in our Canadian History class that Wolfe defeated Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham and therefore England conquered France.
So, if you were General James Wolfe – if you had not died on the Plains of Abraham but had lived – you would be understandably confused if you walked the streets of Montreal today and saw no evidence of the English language.
Kathleen Winter must have wondered the same thing as she wandered around the city where she now lives. In her new novel Lost in September Kathleen Winter imagines James Wolfe in the present day, as he explores the city of Montreal. In fact, he is living in a tent on the slope of Mount Royal but ventures downtown to the gym for a bath. He also re-visits the Plains of Abraham and the approaches where he planned his attack, as he struggles to understand what he once experienced as a soldier, and what the future might now hold for him. All of this seems to be perfectly understandable, if completely absurd.
James Wolfe wrote letters to his family, especially his mother, during the years he was away from home as a soldier. His letters are indeed housed now at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library as the novel indicates. Mother and son were extremely close, perhaps rather too much so, as you will discover. Kathleen Winter has obviously mined these letters for her novel and they are indeed extraordinary, and fascinating to read.
The same river flows through Montreal today as it did in Wolfe’s day. The landscape is also much the same, if you can imagine it without the highways and cities of both sides of this great waterway. And Montmorency Falls looks much the same as it did in 1759, only a few kilometres from Quebec City, a protected landscape where the river drops down a steep cliff to the great Saint Lawrence River. It is easy to imagine both General James Wolfe and Commander Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in this place.
Lost in September chronicles the 11 lost days prior to the battle on the Plains of Abraham on 13 September 1759. Both Wolfe and Montcalm succumbed to their injuries. Obviously neither lived to explore Montreal or Quebec except in the imagination of a very talented writer. You will both laugh and cry as you read about the exploits and confusion of poor James Wolfe. He is at once insightful and blind, as is his friend Harold, who “looks at everyone as they were once a baby”.
James Wolfe was only 32 years old when he died, a young man, as many soldiers are, and many live no longer than did Wolfe. This novel imagines the days lost to history in the life of James Wolfe, as it also explores the same days in the present time in the life of a modern day soldier.
Best known for her novel Annabel, Kathleen Winter presents another brilliant novel that is sure to become a “must read” in the coming year.
Kathleen Winter will be in Parry Sound with The International Festival of Authors on Thursday 26 October when she will read from Lost in September. A date not to be missed!
Breaking News - Lost in September has been nominated for the 2017 Governor General's Award for Fiction! Congratulations Kathleen!