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The Last Woman

by John Bemrose

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small town & rural, contemporary, non-classifiable
list price: $21.00
also available: Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: 2010
imprint: Emblem Editions
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In the heart of cottage country in Ontario, bordering on a native reservation, Ann and Richard are confronted with the abrupt reappearance after ten years of a local man, Billy. His presence once again in their lives brings back powerful memories and rekindles old conflicts, love, and a betrayal, as each of their past and present stories gradually unfolds during one 1980s summer. Containing all of the elements for which The Island Walkers was celebrated, The Last Woman envelops us in Bemrose’s flawlessly crafted and complete world, where each character is unforgettably alive and real, and the land itself breathes its own story into our hearts.

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The sun suffers through a cloudless sky. Week after week, it pulses from shoreline rock, floods the lake with glare. New reefs have surfaced – sullen herds strewing the channels – while in remote bays, floating carpets of lily and arrowhead have given way to flats of dried mud. To some cottagers, the drought seems proof of dire change – some critical shift in the climate, discussed over drinks or at the gas pumps in Carton Harbour, with that secret frisson of anticipation that so often accompanies rumours of catastrophe. But others tell stories of summers just as dry – a reassuring thought, finally, for no one wants life on the lake to change. Lake Nigushi is a place where people come to escape change, to enjoy the kind of summers they and their parents knew in their youth. The plunge from the raft. The Monopoly board or mystery novel on somnolent afternoons . . .  She stands at the window with the receiver pressed to her ear: a woman in cut- offs and a sleeveless blouse, hair mussed from dozing on the couch in the dim room behind her, where the ringing of the phone made its way into her dream. She had been swimming underwater with a book in her hand, and then she flew up, lifted by a crane, cables screeching. And now she is at the window, staring into the fierce daylight with scarcely any sense of how she has got here. Beyond the screen, smooth, fissured rock pours away from the cottage toward the water. On the next island, pines stand in monumental stillness, their long, upswept branches pointing into a brilliant sky. The light has transfixed everything: a piece of driftwood, an empty deck chair, a little colony of dry grasses, all motionless in the heat. It seems to her that nothing can move, will ever move again, the afternoon caught in the paralysis of a spell.

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Contributor notes

John Bemrose’s first novel, The Island Walkers, was a national bestseller, a finalist for The Giller Prize, and a long-list nominee for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in Toronto.

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Editorial Review

“Bemrose offers us nothing less than a template for embracing the core of life’s meaning….”
Globe and Mail

“John Bemrose’s characters […] live as real people live: contradictory, capable of kindness and disdain, of near-simultaneous love and hate, of gross betrayal….”
Times Literary Supplement

"The Last Woman's greatest success is its near-Tolstoian unfolding of the psychology of love triangles." 
The Walrus
"Once again, [Bemrose] is writing with poise and authority...." 
Globe and Mail
"Lush and poetic, polished and crisp."
Quill & Quire
"Toronto journalist and playwright John Bemrose's second novel, a solemn sketch of rural Ontario race relations, seems tailored for entry into the CanLit canon."
— Toronto Life

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