Minister Without Portfolio is book # 4 towards my goal of reading all 5 short-listed books in the #CanadaReads 2016 contest. My earlier reads include: The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), Birdie (Tracey Lindberg) and Bone and Bread (Saleema Nawaz). The final novel to read will be The Hero’s Walk (Anita Rau Badami) before the Canada Reads debates begin.
Minister Without Portfolio is set in the beautiful but rugged terrain of Newfoundland. This story is closest to the theme of starting over and describes Henry making a difference after being involved in tragedy. Henry and a couple of friends travel to work in Afghanistan where, in jest, Henry is deemed the Minister Without Portfolio since he “is not committed to anything but has a hand in everywhere”. He has no wife and no kids.
Without giving the story away, an accident happens leaving one friend dead and Henry feeling responsible. Henry returns to Newfoundland before heading to work in Alberta where another traumatic accident occurs leaving a friend with broken arms. Henry feels the pull of Newfoundland and returns to his home, to the sea and to restore the rickety old home of his friend who died in Afghanistan.
As he remodels, rebuilds and restores the home, he comes to terms with his feelings of responsibility for the accident and making amends to those who suffered loss. He becomes involved in the history and the day-to-day events in the community of Renews, helping his neighbours and taking an active role in the destiny of these new friends who are embroiled in their own drama of daily life. As he rebuilds his home, reframes his own life, he improves the lives of those around them and strengthens his connections to Newfoundland.
I found it very interesting to read about the author’s writing routine:
“What I do for the mind every morning, when I get my son off to school, I go to my study with a cup of coffee and I have this little down vest that I got from the Value Village. It’s too small for me and I put it on because it’s cold and I zip up the vest and as I zip it up, it’s like the vest is giving me a hug. It just frees my mind to then concentrate on the novel. I think without that vest I would be a fractured soul. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the next paragraph. So thank you, thank you down, too-small-for-me vest.” CBC Books
Michael Winter and his older sister Kathleen Winter (author of Annabel) were born in England before moving to Newfoundland. Annabel was part of Canada Reads 2014. This literary family has written engaging novels which help the reader experience the rugged, unpredictable beauty of their adopted province.
I have to admit that I was not sure about this book in the beginning. It was a slow start and the lines between dialogue and character’s thoughts are blurred with a lack of quotation marks. At first, I did not appreciate this but as the story continued, the blending of thought and conversation added to the tale. It is beautifully written and makes me want to travel to the only maritime province that I have not visited!