Girl Reader, Grown Reader: The Jalna series

I am about eleven years old, sitting cross-legged on the floor, in what we called the sewing room.

Next to the sewing machine is a brick-and-board bookcase filled with paperbacks.

(There was a bookcase in nearly every room, regardless of what the room was called. Now, even my kitchen contains bookcases.)

This is where the Marian Engel and Margaret Atwood lived.

This is where the John Jakes and James Michener lived.

But for the purposes of this slip into bookish nostalgia, it is where the Jalna series lived.

I delight in pulling all the books in series off the shelves and stacking them on the floor in a mish-mash, then reshelving them in series order.

Even today, I could probably still reassemble the Kent Family Chronicles perfectly, so that if you wished to begin at the beginning, you could begin to by reading the book at the left and read your way through to the right.

(You would have to begin with the daring title, The Bastard, a title I never uttered as a girl, which I can barely whisper now, so shocking was it to me with every de-shelving and re-shelving that anyone could title a book such a thing. In my experience, this word had nothing to do with ancestry and inheritance and everything to do with behaving scandalously.)

Countless times, even back then, I would ambitiously begin reading the first Jalna volume; countless times, I stalled only two or three pages into the book.

If someone had told me that Adeline would have a parrot, that might have done it. (It’s still a highlight for me.)

If someone had told me that there were some naughty bits in there – like in The Thorn Birds – that would have done it. At least, I would have read those pages. (I might not have been the kind of girl who said things she shouldn’t, but I certainly was the kind of girl who read things she shouldn’t.)

Nobody needed to tell me how much fun a series was – I loved them – but nothing could get me past the opening pages of the Jalna books until last year, when I began anew.

Reading this series – and deciding to allow it to take two years rather than cramming it into one – has been a constant through 2017 and 2018. Every couple of months, I pull a book from the Jalna shelf and reacquaint myself with the Whiteoaks family.

Last month I went to the reference library and perused some of the Mazo de la Roche materials which do not circulate in the system, including Ronald Hambleton’s Mazo de la Roche of Jalna (1966), which contained this quote:

“There is nothing very amazing about my being able to make the Whiteoaks seem real at whatever period I write of them. I just open the door of the house, it closes behind me, and there they are, all about me, more living than the outside world.” (from a letter to Alfred McIntyre)

Yesterday I shared my thoughts on the first volume in the series, which was the seventh published in it; this post also commemorates Mazo de la Roche’s death on July 12th, 1961.

If you enjoy twentieth-century fiction and family sagas, this series makes for great summer reading.

It’s not as flippant as Angela Thirkell but it’s not as serious as John Galsworthy.

And the eleven-year-old reading girl in me loves that there are sixteen volumes.

All in perfect order. Of course. Parrots included.



  1. Laila@BigReadingLife July 17, 2018 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    I love the glimpse into your past reading life!

  2. Naomi July 12, 2018 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    I love this. And, unsurprisingly, I was also a girl who didn’t say things I shouldn’t, but who would definitely read things I shouldn’t. 🙂
    I can picture your 11 year old self happily arranging those books perfectly. Maybe that’s why you like series!
    My grandmother had a bookshelf at her house that I was always fascinated by. I’d take each book out and read the flaps, thinking that someday I would read them all.

    • Buried In Print July 13, 2018 at 8:59 am - Reply

      That probably does have something to do with it, having been raised to believe that a reader could settle into that and-so-it-carried-on kind of fiction for years. But I don’t feel like it was a conscious decision. Did you never read series, or did you have a frustrating experience with one, or did an interesting one just never present itself and then you found yourself a massive TBR without any series and figured ‘why lengthen it even more’? I feel like you would love the kind of series which swaps perspectives through each volume, so that it’s like a bunch of (really long) short stories linked together.

      • Naomi July 13, 2018 at 9:27 am - Reply

        Yes, you’re right, I would! Obviously, I read all of LMM’s series and loved them. I think it’s just that I don’t seek them out, and then, as you said, I have a massive TBR and so the series feel daunting. However, I fully intend to read Eden Robinson’s series and Michael Redhill’s. Both of which tricked me into reading them by being on the Giller shrotlist! 😉

        • Buried In Print July 13, 2018 at 11:05 am - Reply

          Right, just like that. Heheh Those I never think of as serial fiction, maybe because as a girl I never read on (married? bored now!) past the ones I loved. But that’s just the kind of thing I was thinking of – united around a community more than a single character (the odd Toronto and Bala setting aside) – although you’ll be relieved to hear that I don’t have a specific one in mind to recommend. I’m really looking forward to the second books in Robinson’s trilogy and Redhill’s triptych, and I’m curious whether the third in Cusk’s trilogy will appear on this year’s Giller longlist. (Oh, look, there’s another one you’ve read, too! Sneaky Giller listings.)

          • Naomi July 14, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

            I have been wondering the same thing about Cusk’s third book. You’ve read it now, right? I liked Transit better than Outline… do you think I’ll like Kudos better than Transit?

            • Buried In Print July 18, 2018 at 8:55 am

              I think there is a stronger sense of the narrator in the second one than in either the first or the third, so if that’s why you enjoyed it more, then I’m not sure the third will be a great fit for you. 🙁

  3. Stefanie July 12, 2018 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    Oh I love this! Especially: “I might not have been the kind of girl who said things she shouldn’t, but I certainly was the kind of girl who read things she shouldn’t” Oh yes! Me too! And the Bastard, I never read it but I felt the same way about it. I even dared to buy a copy for a quarter at a library books sale when I was a teen and I felt sooo naughty! But I couldn’t bring myself to read it because being seen with it seemed so scandalous! 🙂

    • Buried In Print July 12, 2018 at 6:50 pm - Reply

      I can’t believe that you bought the book. You. Are. So. Cool. I would never have had the nerve. (I saw one of the other books in the series on the shelf, when I was passing through the stacks in another library branch not long ago, and it really didn’t look at all scandalous. But maybe all the “good stuff” is in the first volume!)

  4. Liz Dexter July 12, 2018 at 6:12 am - Reply

    I’ve flirted with the idea of these a few times, I think I might need to wait until I’ve finished going through Iris Murdoch again. I know quite a few people who love them.

    • Buried In Print July 12, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

      I’ll be back with next month’s Murdoch (the library only has one, non-circulating copy of this month’s selection, again), BTW. And I’m finding the two “long” projects (this one and Louise Erdrich’s novels) a lot of reading, so I support your plan to finish with Iris first!

      • Liz Dexter July 13, 2018 at 11:54 am - Reply

        Oh what a shame! I do come across her books in charity shops quite often but not The Red and the Green. It’s not a massive one to miss, it’s the one she kind of disowned, if that helps!

        • Buried In Print July 13, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

          I feel like I used to see her second-hand much more frequently than I do now (I used to have a bunch of 1980s Penguin editions which I picked up in the ’90s second-hand) but now that I am also focussing so much more on reading the books I’ve accumulated than adding to them, maybe I’m not looking as frequently/devotedly either. And, yes, that does help in a way, although it also makes me curious! I’ve heard good things about the next one, although I can’t remember what it’s called…

Say something bookish, or just say 'hey'