October 23, 2022
Julia Glass is one of my go-to writers. So, fresh from reading The Widower’s Tale, I was delighted to see that she has a new book out in 2022 called Vigil Harbor.
The only thing that gave me slight pause for thought as my finger hovered over the ‘buy now’ button was that the novel was set in 2030 … this wasn’t the Julia Glass I knew. Her novels are usually contemporary … and that is my favourite location … I struggle to go back in time, and going forward in time is pretty much a no thank you.
But it was only 10 years … and I wasn’t ready to leave Julia’s world of characters. She wraps you in a shawl of interconnecting lives – her ability to write from one perspective and then another is what makes her novels stand out. It is never a harsh transition – you’re not left waiting to get back to the more interesting character because all of them are likeable and all give another view of the prism of the story.
Her scenario is credible, taking what we know now about climate change and Covid and gently pushing that forward 10 years. She doesn’t scare us to the point of needing to put the book down and run away and hide from what’s there.
Miriam lost her husband to Covid 10 years’ ago, and has rebuilt her life with her son Brecht and new husband Austin – who makes a great living creating houses built to withstand the storms that hit the coastal town. Brecht is back from university after being caught up in a bomb blast in New York, and has a job helping Celestino with landscaping work.
Celestino rejoins the cast from The Widower’s Tale … 30 years’ on from the events in that novel. He now lives with his wife Connie and son Raul – and the small homeschool group happening in their house seems like a way to protect the young people from the realities of climate change and ecology-based terrorism protests.
An old friend of Celestino’s turns up uninvited and joins this safe, happy household for a few days, connecting this story with other ruptions going on in the town.
Mike is a coastal scientist, who has been tracking the decline of marine life for all of his working life. Suddenly his wife ups and leaves him for a man at the yacht club. The wife of that man is Margo, an ex-English teacher who takes Mike to task to sort his life out, post-wife.
As an English teacher she inspired Mike’s son Egon, who wants to make a go of life as an actor – the author’s huge sympathy for the bravery of this struggle reflects her new role teaching MFA writing, surrounded by students making this hard choice.
Then there is Petra who comes on the scene to confront Austin about a former love who mysteriously and abruptly disappeared from both their lives.
All of these people come together in the unfolding threat at the heart of this novel. Through their perspectives, it becomes normal to think about climate change, eco-terrorism, Covid, and winners and losers in managed retreat. Julia Glass doesn’t shy away from the losses and the tensions of this new world, but she makes it digestible by giving us good characters to experience it through, and ordinary events alongside the extraordinary ones.