Harry Cane is the privileged elder son abandoned by his father after his mother dies in childbirth. Although he is excruciatingly shy, he loves and protects his younger brother Jack as they grow to adulthood.
But bad things happen to good people and although the pair seem to settle into happy marriages an unexpected seduction leads to him being forced to abandon his wife and child. He signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies and is promised 160 acres, his to keep if his soft hands and weak back prove up to the task of cultivating it within three years.
On route he meets the brutishly manipulative Troels Munck, a terrifying friend yet one that seems set on helping Harry, first finding him work for a year as a farmhand so he can learn the ways of the land, then finding him his own homestead and helping him prepare for the start of his stay.
But Harry’s instincts about Troels are right and the man tries to destroy every happiness that Harry has built. Can Harry survive this and put the pieces of himself back together yet again?
Harry is a man I fell instantly in love with, not romantic love I hasten to add, but a sympathetic love, the kind of love you have for a good person who doesn’t deserve to be suffering, and you fear can’t cope with much more. The kind of love you feel for a child in distress.
But Patrick Gale isn’t just expert at drawing complex male characters, he extends this skill to every single character he writes, no matter how small. He has the same skill at bringing surroundings to life so when you are reading one of his books you feel like you are right there in the story. Yet he does it in such an unassuming manner that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how he does it. When you read a Patrick Gale book, you know you’re in safe hands.
This is no ordinary Patrick Gale book though. This is the edgiest work of his I have ever read. He has stepped away from books set in the middle-class gentility and the raw historical setting of this might be a bit of a challenge for some of his regular fans. But for me, I loved it.