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His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

"What Jim learned from the sunrise was that when you think that something is over, it's only beginning." 

Scotiabank Giller Prize winner, Elizabeth Hay is the authority on capturing life’s complexities without resorting to verbosity; her prose is economical – conveying much in the few. Her new book His Whole Life is set on the backdrop of Quebec's independence movement in the 1990s. Although it touches on the political theme, it is not really about politics. (I know because I actually asked Elizabeth about this back in May, when I was invited to meet her and Paula McLain at an exclusive Random House Canada event at Oliver & Bonacini, Toronto).

Paula McLain and Elizabeth Hay
Rather, it's about the ordinary Canadian who is affected by the changes around, while dealing with their own struggles in life. It's about the intimate conversations we have in our homes with our family and friends, of everything going on in the world. This makes His Whole Life relatable and poignant for it can just as easily be a story about us.

Her story takes us into the life of ten-year-old Jim. It's the last few days of August and Jim is travelling from New York City to a lake in eastern Ontario, with him mom and dad. They've been making this trip every year since he was born. His family would stay a week with the Canadian side of his family, at his mother's bother's place on the lake of many bays. Jim's dad is American. 

Oliver & Bonacini, Toronto, Canada
The story begins with their long car ride and like all long car rides, there are moments and thoughts that drag out things in us that linger for hours. 

"Like a ball slowly turning, a snowball gathering itself new snow, old snow, grass, gravel, dirt as it builds its rolling life on slopes and sidewalks and backyards until it comes to rest in a cool woods, hidden away from the sunlight and summer and self, biding its time." 

Jim's mom is a Canadian at heart. On the journey, her eagerness to return back is only offset by her regret at how long she has stayed away. She had become an expatriate without meaning to. 

"Canada beckoned to her, so stable and reasonable a country. Yet always on the verge of coming apart, it had to be said, because Quebec was so unhappy." 
Quebec's separation has always been in my mind, but not front and centre of my life. But, Elizabeth Hay is a pro at making us feel a part of the journey and experience. His Whole Life has made me personally look at the situation in a whole new light. I am forced into the issue, questioning and engaging in the conversation of how a political agenda really affects the everyday conversations and worries of the everyday Quebecer. 

With a series of acclaimed works of fiction under her belt, Elizabeth Hay knows how to evoke emotion and conjure up wonderful and painful childhood memories with her profound prose. It feels neither pretentious nor over simplified. It feels like we are having a conversation. 


Blog post by @ShilpaRaikar (Creative and Social Media strategist, decor enthusiast and book lover, who also writes for a branding blog:, as well as a lifestyle blog: T: @SukasaStyle) 

His Whole Life is published by Random House Canada, a Penguin Random House Company  


  1. I've really enjoyed her other books and have been saving "Alone in the Classroom"; now that this one has been published I can read the last one and save this one!


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