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The Age of Water Lilies

by Theresa Kishkan

The twinned themes of life and death animate The Age of Water Lilies, a novel distinguished by the quiet grace of its prose and the rich evocation of the natural world.

The breadth of this novel is impressive: the story moves from 1912, when Flora Oakden travels from the U.K. to the town of Walhachin in rural B.C., through the First World War, finally settling in 1960s Victoria.

The heart of the story involves the bond between 70-year-old Flora and seven-year-old Tessa. Their relationship allows Kishkan to bridge past and present, evoke history, and dramatize the effects of change. The novel alternates between Flora’s coming of age as a new arrival to Canada and the period in the 1960s when Flora and Tessa’s lives intersect. Evocative details such as Tessa’s favourite playground, Ross Bay Cemetery, and an image of primroses dusting “the ground like snow” while “the voices of children ring out from the breakwater where a seal has washed ashore, half its belly eaten,” further exemplify the thematic collision between endings and beginnings.

Kishkan has created characters the reader comes to care about. People, places, and objects operate on both a literal and a metaphorical level, which is not as easy to pull off as it sounds. Unfortunately, the dialogue in the novel is weak. Laden with exposition and clichés, it slows the pace and undermines the characters: “Flora, you positively glow! Your skin, your eyes – you have the look of someone who has found out the secret of youth and beauty, which love surely provides.”

Ultimately, this is a novel that unfolds slowly, and the author’s focus on nature and the past may tax some readers’ patience. Yet for those who seek a poignant read, The Age of Water Lilies offers rewards.


Reviewer: Ami Sands Brodoff

Publisher: Brindle & Glass


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 312 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-89714-242-4

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2009-12

Categories: Fiction: Novels