It’s still early, the winter morning that I begin reading Hetty Dorval, and the train is leaving the station hesitatingly, in the dark and snowless cold.

I have my other book in my lap, my fun read, the sort of read that will be perfectly absorbing even after the bulk of the passengers give up on napping and begin to engage in conversations and meals purchased from the trolley that lurches up and down the aisle between major cities.

I feel sure that I’ll be done reading Hetty before the trolley moves past once more, but it takes me much longer than expected to read it, as is often the case with skinny books that suggest they are little more than short stories.

But I don’t recall that yet, only think that it’s deliciously satisfying when I discover that on the first page Frankie and Ernestine are heading to the train station to see who is leaving and arriving in Lytton, on the day that Mrs. Dorval’s belongings are shipped, unloaded under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Broom and Sailor.

“We did not find grown-ups interesting, but we were always on the lookout for other children or for dogs.” (1-2)

So when the girls are admiring Sailor, I feel as though I have chosen to read this book in circumstances which are perfect for it. As perfect as they could be, if not enjoyed in the landscape that inspired them: I am half a country away from British Columbia.

As the train pushes through southwestern Ontario, there is no confluence of rivers. But I take care to stop and admire the vista across the river at Paris, which I fancy my favourite view of this journey, although I do love the southern-most bit, where there is only enough room for a single strip of houses on the northern side of the tracks between the line and the lake.

These waterways are exceptional on our journey through landscape distinctly southern Ontario, farms nestled with industry, pine forests punctuating scrubland, but I move through it so quickly that I feel removed from it. I can transport myself into Lytton “lying there at the fringe of the sage-brush carpet in a fold of the hills at the edge of the dry belt and the coast area” has two rivers joining beside the town, the Thompson and the Fraser.

The landscape in Wilson’s novel, particularly the sense of dual natures expressed in the pair of rivers, is a vitally important part of this novel, but obviously it’s the narrator’s relationship with Hetty Dorval which is the focus.

Spanning the years from Frankie’s childhood to young womanhood, the story is told deliberately with an eye to the way in which her relationship with Hetty Dorval evolves and the narrative does not swerve from this purpose except as long as it takes to develop the relationships that are impacted by this unusual woman’s presence in Frankie’s life.

In the first few pages of the novel, it’s obvious that this woman’s arrival in Lytton is the cause of considerable speculation and indeed it seems that controversy is abundant when she moves into an area. Frankie is at first fascinated by this woman but soon discovers that although the gossips of the novel do not fully understand what Hetty Dorval is all about, the younger Frankie was also oblivious to much of the complexity of this pivotal young woman as well.

As usual, it’s complicated.

Counted as my first read in Can Lit Reading Challenge and my first Persephone Read of 2010.