Read A Beauty by Connie Gault Online


In a drought-ridden Saskatchewan of the 1930s, self-possessed, enigmatic Elena Huhtala finds herself living alone, a young Finnish woman in a community of Swedes in the small village of Trevna. Her mother has been dead for many years, and her father, burdened by the hardships of drought, has disappeared, and the eighteen-year-old is an object of pity and charity in her comIn a drought-ridden Saskatchewan of the 1930s, self-possessed, enigmatic Elena Huhtala finds herself living alone, a young Finnish woman in a community of Swedes in the small village of Trevna. Her mother has been dead for many years, and her father, burdened by the hardships of drought, has disappeared, and the eighteen-year-old is an object of pity and charity in her community. But when a stranger shows up at a country dance, Elena needs only one look and one dance before jumping into his Lincoln Roadster, leaving the town and its shocked inhabitants behind. What follows is a trip through the prairie towns, their dusty streets, shabby hotel rooms, surrounded by dry fields that stretch out vastly, waiting for rain. Elena's journey uncovers the individual stories of an unforgettable group of people, all of whom are in one way or another affected by her seductive yet innocent presence. At the centre is Ruth, a girl whose life becomes changed in unexpected ways. She and the girl Elena, distanced and apart, form a strange bond that will come to haunt the decades for them both. Written in luminous prose, threaded through with a sardonic wit and deep wisdoms, A Beauty is at one time lyrical and tough, moving and mysterious, a captivating tale of a woman who, without intending to, touches many lives, and sometimes alters them forever....

Title : A Beauty
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780771036576
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Beauty Reviews

  • Jennifer
    2019-03-25 02:16

    so, i think this book would have been a better read for me under two circumstances:1) if i was reading this in the summer time: this story is mostly set on the saskatchewan prairies, during summer. it was hot. stinking, sweating hot. the novel is anchored in the drought, and economic depression of the 1920s/30s. the wheat was roasting. the locusts were swarming. the people were wilting in the heat. because i love to read to the season, i just felt hyper-aware of the weather given we are under an extreme cold alert here in toronto.2) if the mirror device was not relied upon so frequently/awkwardly: sigh. mirrors are relied upon a lot in this story. once, i could have been okay with, forgiven, or gotten past. but three different characters have three different moments at a mirror, plus there are a couple of mentions of mirrors in passing. so that was a bit of overkill for me, and distracting.those points aside, gault has a lovely, quiet way with her writing. she was certainly able to evoke the characters, places, and times for me. i found this novel read more as a collection of connected short stories. individually, chapters - which are denoted by a town's setting - are often fairly strong. as a whole, i found it a bit awkward in its flow.the choice of the narrator is interesting too, and i am still thinking on this trying to figure out how i feel. the narrator is ruth - when we first meet her, she is an 11yo girl and she grows with us through the read. but she isn't the main character, and it does leave open the question of how she's come to know all of the details revealed in the book. at the end, quick connections are made between ruth and a couple of characters, but i didn't feel that quite worked for me.i have highlighted a number of passages - moments when i felt gault was spot-on in identifying human nature. i think gault has a keen eye and i bet she's a great listener. as she notes in the novel: "Speak a little, hear a lot, that's a Finnish proverb."

  • GinaRose Cristello
    2019-03-11 07:43

    Sometimes what is unsaid is more powerful than what is said. A Beauty completely exemplifies this. Love the prarie setting, both barren and yet rich with character. Connie Gault has this way of constructing sentences so witty and sharp you are constantly being surprised from the beginning to the end of a phrase. They twist and turn and you are constantly being caught off guard. Loved it!!

  • J. Robinson
    2019-03-14 10:21

    Faulkner once said that there is nothing worth writing about except the human heart in conflict with itself, and A Beauty is a testament to that view. Unsatisfied desire, regret, the road not taken—these human sorrows inform Connie Gault’s novel. But so do the roads taken, the resulting accompanying pleasures, the sated desires, the mysteries uncovered.Elena Huhtala, 18, is the teen-aged “beauty” of the title, envied and admired by the other girls (and men) in the small prairie town of Trevna, in southern Saskatchewan. The reader first sees Elena she is sitting on a swing, presented like a classical silhouette against the setting sun. She is sitting idly, swinging gently. When Elena hops off the swing and approaches the neighbour’s wagon, the novel is set in motion. Elena climbs up on the wagon to get a ride to the dance at Liberty Hall she hadn’t wanted to attend. She just does.At the dance a stranger, a city boy in expensive clothes, Bill Longmore, arrives in a big, gold Lincoln roadster, and Elena leaves with him. Together they set out on the road, going anywhere it takes them. This is not, however, a quest motif novel; Elena is not driven by desire, or specific goals, or even much more than the vague longing of someone who has lost everything and doesn’t know what will happen next. Her story is more about escape, and survival.As Elena and Bill travel, Elena discovers her path as she goes, allowing the reader the opportunity to enter the lives of other equally engaging prairie individuals in a “slice of life” form of approach as they stop and stay in a number of other small, hot, dusty, dying prairie towns—the towns are only 7 miles apart along the railway. Each of the stops provides opportunity for “slice of life” realism in narratives which could be short stories in their own right. The pair of skinny, bantering, worn out hotel owners; the balding fireman with the wife in prison, and his lover, who runs the local ladies’ fashion store; the Chinese restaurant owners and staff; the bright and ebullient young girl walking down the tracks who will take over the narrative from time to time with her clear strong first person voice. They have their own stories, their own matters of the human heart needing attention, and we are made privy to those matters.Elena is a mysterious, elusory character, and yet at the same time she is not particularly exceptional or unusual, except in her remarkable beauty. At the beginning Elena, a famished girl of Finnish descent, has been reduced to nothing—she is “dirt poor,” in the 30s, when it really meant dirt poor. Her father’s farm can no longer sustain life. There is nothing left to eat, and Elena is utterly alone—her mother died when she was two; her father vanished in despair 5 weeks ago. She is of the local community but not of it—and her father kept them on the fringes of the Finnish community. Even her dress is brown and faded as the pervasive dust as she walks through the drought-ridden brown and faded landscape. Her only asset is her beauty. She is compared to Helen of Troy. And to Garbo who, larger than life, has escaped an ordinary, predictable life and found a glamourous, extravagant one up on the silver screen with a handsome leading man. Going to the dance and entering Liberty Hall she joins (a la Northrop Frye), the community, moves from outside to inside, potentially from isolation to integration—but she stays only long for a young man, Bill, to show up in expensive clothes driving a large, gold Lincoln roadster. The tall dark stranger who rides into town and takes off the most beautiful girl in town. They are not larger than life except in other’ perceptions of them—dreams of freedom, escape from the parched landscape, from the hopelessness of life in the drought when so much is out of one’s control, and the effects ripple outward, blowing dust. So many of the characters reveal that they wish they could leave, wish they weren’t tied or trapped or somehow otherwise fixed to where they live. The women long to be like the female movie stars; the young men want to drive off into the sunset in a fancy car with a pretty, malleable girl who adores you (or soon will), at your side. After she’s gone, Elena becomes an almost mythical figure for the people who don’t escape; she is the one who is offered a way to leave; she is the one who “gets away.” But, as the reader discovers, she is also one who, decades later, in her own way, ends up coming home.A Beauty may be mostly Elena’s story, but it is also the story of the very land she emerges from, the people she comes from, and the longing for escape from the monotony and limitations of their lives. It is the story of everyone who has felt loss, discontent, and longing. In other words, everyone.If you like to read realism tinged with a faint magic, if you like character, if you like beautifully drawn prairie landscapes peopled (sparsely) by characters rendered in careful, clear prose, you will happily immerse yourself in this novel, you will feel the reverberations between the land, and the people who live on that land. Readers who have lived long in the city may feel only faint echoes that evoke traces of that connection to the land, while those who have known and loved that prairie land and those people will feel a deeper and more poignant kind of longing and recollection. I am one of the latter.I’ve known Connie Gault’s work for a long time—her plays, her short stories, her first novel, Euphoria (Marina Endicott aptly dubbed Gault “the Canadian Dickens,” for that book), and now her second novel, A Beauty. I have been and remain a huge fan of Gault’s work, and admire her skill, her insight, her humour, her compassion for her characters, and her unique and pleasing writing style. There is no one quite like A Beauty’s Elena Huhtala, and there is no writer quite like Connie Gault.

  • Krista
    2019-03-13 05:16

    I kind of loved A Beauty by Connie Gault. Set in the 1930s dustbowl of rural Saskatchewan, and then revisiting the same small towns three decades later, Gault uses a homespun Prairie voice to make piercing observations about life and love and family and loss. There's a sneaky magic to this book: I found the storyline to be compelling – not because there was some big mystery or urgent climax – but because I had gotten to know the characters well enough to have really cared about how they all turn out. And that's saying something when the main character doesn't go around saying much at all.We start in the small community of Trevna at a country dance, where all the gossips are catching up on the latest: the failed Finnish farmer (an outsider in an enclave of Swedish immigrants) has abandoned his 18-year-old daughter; walking off the farm and taking nothing with him but his rifle. The older women cluck and the young women giggle out of a mix of superiority and jealousy, for the daughter, Elena, has always been a mystery to them:You couldn't say she was always pretty, but she was always great. Grand, that was the word. And she was prettier than Greta Garbo, maybe, to start with; Aggie thought she was...Aggie watched Elena standing alone by the door, kind of floating there as if she'd forgotten anyone could see her. In that old, faded, limp brown dress. The girl was dirt poor. She had only the one dress and when she washed it, God knew what she did to be decent in front of her father. She had no mother and she didn't pretend otherwise. Maybe that was the very thing that made her so grand – she didn't pretend about anything.Soon enough, a strange man appears at the dance and attention turns to him:The stranger waited near the door for a while, lounging against the wall with a friendly expression on a face that looked as if it naturally fell into friendly lines. He wasn't in a hurry. He waited there until people got used to the idea of him. He'd obviously come to country dances before. He was good-looking without being handsome, which in that community meant he looked clean and respectable and quite a lot like one of them.While folks ate their lemon cake and shared Photoplay magazines – and a certain old goat kept sliding his hand down onto the bums of the young ladies he was dancing with – Elena was enchanting the stranger, Bill, just by being her. When he whispered that he'd like to take her home, Elena stopped dancing and headed for the doorway, beginning a journey from hick town to hicker town across Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, back at the dance, Elena's regular dance partner – a young man who might have reasonably hoped to make a wife out of the young beauty – had his own reaction:Nils Larson got drunk for the first time in his life that night, but he was such a nice young man drink didn't affect him much. He only made some rash statements about following Elena and bringing her back where she belonged, and then forgot why he was alive and stared stupidly at nothing for a while and then passed out.That last passage was what I found so enchanting about A Beauty – we never hear about Nils Larson again, but from a few brief sentences, I feel I knew him. In each of the towns that Elena (and later her father) visits, we meet the locals, and with more than a few sentences devoted to them, we grow to know these people: understand what a marriage means when you've been together forever like the smart alecky Merv and Pansy in Addison; or for a Chinese immigrant who was forced to leave his wife and son behind like Jerry in Virginia Valley; or to a man whose wife is incarcerated for murdering their severely disabled newborn like Albert in Charlesville:She'd killed their baby daughter, born with so many deformities you'd think she couldn't have lived. Smothered her with a pillow. Just a bundle of pain, that's all she was, the women said. Someone had come up with that description, and it had evidently impressed them all. They'd each intoned it as if the phrase had popped into their heads that moment...And that was how easy it was for them to rid themselves of the child's little life and Betty Earle's dilemma, once it had been reduced to those just-right words, those words that implied pity without the effort of forgiveness. Albert had been left to absorb the pain that couldn't be assuaged by an apt expression. And to look after the five kids left at home.When Elena steps out of the car in Gilroy, the point of view switches to first person and we see her through the eyes of young Ruthie McLaughlin. From this point on, we begin to think that Elena might not be so much “forward-thinking” as a bit nutty.At one point, Bill and Elena are discussing the movie It Happened One Night and they can't agree on whether it's meant to show what makes a good husband or if it's about what makes a good father, and in A Beauty, Gault explores these ideas (of support and responsibility and commitment) further. Elena floats through the story like a Nordic fairy princess, shaking up even those lives that she doesn't interact with directly, and every time someone falls for the fairytale, the princes turn out to be frogs (or even toads caught in the throats of unlucky cats). I included so many passages here because I was hoping to capture the voice of the writing, which was consistently confiding and witty. I don't know if I loved all of Elena's journey, but as a device for Gault's penetrating explorations of character and setting, it's a worthy frame for fascinating ideas.

  • Susan
    2019-02-22 03:33

    This is beautifully written and evocative of the 1930s in the Prairies. Character development is strong. I could only give it three stars, however, because not very much happens in the novel, and it becomes tedious toward the end. I wish it had been better.

  • Jeanette
    2019-03-12 07:37

    Connie Gault is a new-to-me author - this book came my way via the GoodReads giveaway that ran a short time ago. From the start I was struck by how beautiful her prose is; how gentle an observational touch she gives as each of the characters' portions of the story are told. This was a little different for a multiple point-of-view story, with one told in first person and the remaining in third person. It didn't turn out to be as startling a change as I expected. The story flowed just fine between each character - from the beginning in Trevna with the Gustaffson's, Elena and the other townspeople, right through to those whose path Elena crosses on her journey. Every story, every observation gives a uniquely intimate glimpse into the mind of the character telling their part (and includes many gorgeous descriptions of the rural Saskatchewan landscape and customs of the people of that era). It is all these parts that together as a whole made a story I found hard to put down.Thank you Connie Gault for this one. I'll be looking up more of your work for sure!

  • Cynthia Alice
    2019-02-28 03:31

    Loved it. Disagree though with whoever wrote the description. Elena is NOT Finnish! She's Canadian. The community is not Swedish; IT is Canadian. The writer of the description seems to have confused ancestry with nationality.And that is very important in terms of this story. It is such a Canadian story, and so very much about the Canadian prairies at that time in particular!

  • Lori Bamber
    2019-03-24 08:42


  • Pamela
    2019-03-02 04:31

    (view spoiler)[It disappoints me. I know Elena had lots of problems (poverty, father pretending to be dead, difficulties), but she took advantage of her gifts, her looks, her allure, and she hurt a lot of people in the process. And yet, Bill comes back to claim her, to help her, to rescue her, to save her. It's "a beauty" indeed. When I was young, I decided to write a book about a beautiful girl because I thought they were misunderstood. I was not beautiful, and so I never really knew and I never benefited from beautiful privilege. But, of course, I was wrong. Beautiful stories are told all the time. It's the common lives that are not. So, here's the ENDING and I feel bad about it. I feel that Elena should have paid for stealing Ruthie's father, for leaving the place, for making everyone want her. She didn't have to pay in the end. Maybe I'm just too judgmental. And maybe Bill should just leave, beautifully written, just the endin is not right for me...It's still an absolutely glorious book."He [Bill] looked up at the house behind him, at the blind pulled down to the windowsill. She doesn't know I had a life all the time she was gone, he thought. She's afraid of making the same mistakes she made before. The more he thought about it, the more he was sure he was right. There were times in a life that mistakes could start to seem like crimes. Well, he was guessing. But it could be why she'd come home. No more we'll go a roving. He'd read that in a novel, a character had thought it, a woman who barely noticed what she was thinking; one of those fragments of a poem, it had slipped like a breeze through her mind. So we'll go no more a roving. By the light of the moon. He wanted to tell Elena he understood, give her something to lean against, even if it was only for ten minutes on the doorstep. She might not need anyone; she might be better off on her own. We're not all alike, he thought.In the quiet of the farmyard, he heard a soft shushing sound he hadn't heard before, that might have been the earth sighing. Or maybe he'd sighed, himself, he couldn't tell. If so, it wasn't because he was getting melacholy; it was a sigh of contentment, and why not? He had time, he had plenty to spare, and Elena would have to come out, sooner or later. She'd have to come out only if to deal with that rental car, but she'd come out, anyway, because she wasn't a house kind of person. And then they were going to talk. He wasn't at the end of this, and she wasn't either. No, she was no house kind of person; she was a woman who belonged outdoors and preferably in a car, a big, fast, luxury convertible with the top down, open to the sky. He'd ask her where she wanted to go, and she'd say anywhere. He laughed. The old fellow would be on his side, he could tell.Later, he began to whistle, an airy tune that sounded lonely to those inside the house." (hide spoiler)]There is another term to describe that light, or maybe it's just a different light, when it is glorious and warm and glowing all over right before the twilight. Ah."...The sun had set by then; beyond the door it was the time of evening called the gloaming in poetry and songs, not quite dark, a shadowy time, just right for thinking about people being gone."The veil is beautiful. So beautiful. Such amazing writing, such luminous prose."Fatherland. The word popped into her mind. She'd gone to his, and now wondered if she had one, if this was it, this landscape, these people. Her gaze travelled over the land and she saw a strange phenomenon. More like a fabric than light, a gold veil was floating at the same speed as the car, a long veil unrolling and unravelling. She began to rehearse what she would say if she found her father at the farm. It seemed as if her words lay on the veil and were borne across the fields. But they wouldn't be gifts if they reached him; they wouldn't be welcome. He would nod and glance up once into her face, or maybe he'd refuse to look at her."Bill is on his way, with his wife's spirit beside him. But he is fantasizing about something that was never real. What will happen to him, and would his wife really bless it? Whatever I feel about it, though, the prose is gorgeous, well-written, spare and makes me think of the show not tell. She does it all."He began to whistle as he drove along the old road, loose stones pinging his car and spurting out from the wheels. He glanced to the empty seat beside him and it seemed to him his wife's spirit was there, smiling on him."Gault starts Ruth with the longing for a quiet room (a room of one's own?) and here it is again. The need, the feeling, never left her. "I really thought I might leave him and it was not, right at the time, a totally unattractive thought. I still had in me vestiges of my old longing for a quiet room where I could be alone."I don't like what her father did, but I like this."...I felt my father standing beside me, as if h were there, as if he really could be standing next to me, seeing what had become of Gilroy. Seeing what had become of me. Oh, yes, looking me up and down, raising his eyebrows, nodding his head, telling--as I was sure he would do--that it's best to remember the wider picture. Ruthie."The jealousy that Ruth feels about Leonard and Elena is so familiar. And yet it is never as fantasy will make it, really in the end, is it?"It was Leonard I pictured in the doorway. But it wasn't me in the cafe, it was Elena, looking cool in a fresh dress, looking serene, looking free--yes, free to do what she wanted--and happy to see him. A little anxious, maybe, just a little. She wouldn't have been sure he'd come. Pretty sure, though. There was the old attraction on top of the new one. There would be that moment at the door wehn he was free, too, when he could still turn away.And I thought: How did I end up trapped in this life I didn't ask for?"Aggie is not a particularly likeable character to me, even though she is dramatic and prone to dreaming (why don't I like her?) and yet this is so amazing. The wind, yes the wind."...She headed out from her parents' house with a lipstick in the pocket of her skirt and a hot wind that she owned in a way that she would never admit to anyone, it would sound so dumb. Luckily, nobody else was around for miles, and that meant she could think of it as hers, her personal tempestuous wind. And the best part was it was tireless; it would blow and blow and never give. up. ...."Beautiful description (again again again). This is how it is done, people."...The sun was shedding a truly biblical light over Gilroy by then, looking down on us and shuddering. Yes, that's how it looked if you were fanciful and apt to anthropomorphize forces of nature, imagining the sun, for instance, as an entity that could have compassion for those in its power. But the state of the sky hardly affected me. I'd been banished to the house."This is where it began (something at least for Ruth) and it's like a movie, but magic; it's like foreshadowing, but poetic; it's powerful, real, tight, and so well written, it makes me cry."I didn't have long to wait for my dad. I hadn't been back at my station on the sidewalk more than ten minutes before he showed up on Main Street. I can see him now, when I think of it, walking towards me. Looking like a movie star. My father was on the short side, maybe he was only five feet seven or eight, but he was so lean, so he seemed taller. He cut a good figure, as people used to say, and even in dusty work clothes, in his shirt sleeves and suspenders, he walked with an effortless sort of elegance, the kind that can't be feigned. He wore his old felt fedora tipped back in a way that made him look as if he expected a happy outcome to any day, and he smoked his cigarette, and he looked at Elena Huhtala from way down the street, careless with the cigarette, careful with the look, like the leading man in a movie bound to bring them together."Another reason to celebrate Ruth's father's view of the world, and what he brings to Ruth's life. Oh, and nothing yet..."'It blows in from Old Wives Lake,' my father said, and I imagined witches, withered of face and bent of body, huddled around a steaming cauldron, muttering curses and brewing mischief and misfortune. That's the picture the words old wives stirred in almost everyone, those days. Women who'd been left behind and resented it. They had nothing to do with me."Ruth shows great appreciation for her father and her own literary bent. How wonderful to have a father like this who made such stories, and yet there is a consequence to this type of magic."I always silently answered his question, whether he'd asked it or not. What kind of well? A wishing well, of course. Wishing is what the word contains. When they said 'Well...' my dad's friends were wishing they could stay longer, or they were wishing they could believe him, wishing they could be carefree like him. They all knew better. He should not have been carefree, with a wife and seven children, but, well, that was the way he was. So I pictured the round stone circle, the ancient rope and wooden bucket I'd seen in storybooks, and observed his insouciant self-regard, his certainty that others liked and appreciated him. And I appreciate him, still, when I think about all the things he taught us and tried to teach us. Don't they show he cared about us?"Self consciousness and drama of youth. Again, beautifully evocative."Probably I was conscious of looking lonely, out there alone on the bare prairie, moseying along on a hot day when anyone with brains bigger than a grasshopper's would have found some shade; probably I was hoping to make the impression of loneliness if anyone went by and noticed me."Ruth sees Elena for the first time, and she knows that she (Ruth) affected all that came after with Elena. Gault has an amazing point of view... sometimes it's Ruth (first person so we don't know everything especially from when she is a child, and magickal because it's from a youth perspective i.e. anything can happen always and in fact, does), sometimes from an omniscient narrator when Elena is in other places, but even then we aren't told it all. Very interesting mix of POVs, and Gault pulls it off."... That day I was mooching along, wishing I could live in someone else's house -- wasting my time on wishing, when I might have been looking and seeing, when I might have been experiencing what I could only, from evidence painstakingly gathered later, imagine. And I have often imagine it since; it was of such importance to me, the moment of her arrival in Gilroy, that liquid droplet in that pearly day, the car door opening, her wavy, honey-coloured hair, one bared, tanned leg then another as she placed her feet on the running board and looked up to find a pale sun in the sky, the size of a coin tossed high. Her brown dress clinging to her thighs as she stepped down to the gravel and the spurge at the side of the road."Gault does so many extraordinary things in her prose. Here, Elena is imagining the significance of wearing gloves (which she had imagined on the hands of a woman she imagines on the boat), the signifier, the message it gives. Just a very short piece, but tells us so much about Elena, about the culture, the time, poverty."...She closed her eyes so that in her mind's eye she could see the buttons on those gloves. Something refined about them spelled assurance, a certain carefree ease, a way of being that needed money behind it, and made her think of her father's worthless land and the empty buildings, the way she'd last seen them flashing past in the wide circle lit by Bill's headlights."Gault gives everyone so beautiful pieces and expressions in their thoughts, even if they aren't beautiful. It's a gift she has to express poetry which exists everywhere. Elena inspires it (in this passage) and with everyone, but she is a danger to all women. What is it about her that gives her such power over men, and why isn't it universal?"She [Elena] might be walking alongside him [Bill], but she was in her own world, that was clear. He slipped his arm around her. When he thought about it, he was glad she was quiet; he had time to imagine the kind of conversation he'd like the two of them to have, him talking to her the way Clark Gable talked about the moon and stars and water and the kind of woman--yeah, the kind of woman--he wanted to share all that with him. Love-talk, the likes of which he could only imagine saying in a dream."This is so true; it's what stops me, controls me, and fills me with fear. It is in me all the time."One thing Merv didn't like about getting older was the worrying. He didn't recall worrying so much when he was young, and about things that hadn't happened and were unlikely at that. ..."Gorgeous prose. Our first glimpse of Elena is an example of description which is evocative and so real it's like I can feel it."...The past crept into her mind, then, as it does when you're quiet: the long summer days she'd spent swinging on this swing, as if they still existed, as if they silently existed, alongside her, and if she swung forward, they'd swing back. ..."Thus it BEGINS."On the Saturday evening, the Gustafsons, Mr. and Mrs. and the two children, set out for the dance at Trevna. Mr Gustafson wore a benevolent beard and Mrs. Gustafson wore a tight, shiny dress. The children had bathed. They weren't talking. They had hurried to get ready once it had been decided they wouldn't take the car, and after that fuss they were content to sit and let their bodies get accustomed to the rhythm of the wagon. All around them, landscape of the sort they were used to rolled out to the edges of the sky. The axle creaked, the horses' hooves clopped, the sun set in their faces. The children, behind their parents, got locked in a battle involving all four of their hands in knots. Up front, Henrik scowled for several reasons that must have seemed important at the time, and Maria's bland countenance reflected nothing."

  • Tina
    2019-03-20 06:37

    I struggled with the first quarter of this novel – I wondered where it was going, why Elena would just get into a car with a young man she didn’t know and I didn’t exactly relish Bill’s perspective regarding her (it was possessive while subsequently putting her on a pedestal, mingled with blatant sexism) – though I realize a great deal of it was due to the time period so I tried to overlook it. I also found the focus on describing Elena’s beauty tiresome – yeah, she’s beautiful, we get it. I was almost contemplated setting the book aside as a waste of $10 when, all of a sudden, it changed course and tone. By the end I was very much hooked. The setting and the characters really make the story. You could see the sparseness yet also beauty of the Saskatchewan plains during the dirty 30s and the simplicity of the lifestyle (but also the inability to be anything but simple). I’ve never been to Saskatchewan, but I’ve driven through American prairies. Someday I would love to go.As for characters, Elena grew more interesting (view spoiler)[away from Bill (hide spoiler)] because she was this waif-like, almost ethereal, seemingly passive person, but she also harbored an innate strength and determination. She ended up being a surprisingly fascinating character that, by the end, you understand why she had the effect on people that she did and why, 20 or so years later, people still remembered her. Then again, I take it not a lot happened in small towns in those days, so Elena’s brief appearance was quite possibly something you would remember 20 years down the road. The other characters were well-done – we only get a glimpse into their lives, but they were all distinct people with interesting perspectives. While it was obvious they were all “trapped” (the thematic gyre upon which the plot turns, but I didn’t find it too belabored), either by circumstance, financial instability, cultural stigma, or something else.Despite it being a little heavy-handed, I liked the cyclical/mirrored nature of the perspectives in how the story was told, (view spoiler)[Elena started out in Trevna, visited all the towns, went to Finland (like her father), and then returned, but came back through the same places, almost reversing her journey (hide spoiler)].Overall, an interesting, elegantly told novel that is most definitely a slow burn but you’ll enjoy if you want something light, a little intriguing, and if you like period pieces.

  • Kristy
    2019-03-05 03:19

    What a delightful little read. A beautiful story, lovely characters. Just endearing from start to finish.

  • Heather(Gibby)
    2019-03-04 09:33

    This is a beautiful slow read. It takes place in Saskatchewan during the drought of the '30's, but it is really about relationships.

  • Laurie
    2019-03-04 03:30

    Wonderful--see review from Sages Book Club

  • Beverly
    2019-03-08 09:18

    Connie Gault examines the issues of the dirty thirties on prairie farms and in towns in rural Saskatchewan. Many farmers who came to Canada in the early 1900's were enticed by the idea of having their own land. The posters that showed a land of rich soil and crops - and a life better than they had in their homeland. Unfortunately, many who came to the Canadian west were not equipped for the hardships of the prairies, and finally, when the 1930's brought drought, hot windy summers, prairie fires, and locusts, many of these homesteaders abandoned their hopes of being able to make their dreams come true. Men were unable to take care of their families, many walking away from their homesteads and some also abandoning their families. The women on these homesteads had so much work that they often failed to satisfy the expectations of their husbands, or realize their own needs - the need for a life that’s more than work and childcare. None of the women likely signed their marriage license with the intent of having seven children and work from dawn to dusk. I’m wondering if there is significant data available to suggest how many men abandoned their wives and children, in one way or another, during the early 1900's. Or is this an issue the author speculated about as a result of stories she heard? The plot opens on the beautiful Elena, a 19 year old girl whose mother is dead and whose father has apparently abandoned her. To others she represents the ideal woman - beautiful, slim, free of encumbrances, intelligent, capable. She's a woman that men and women respond to – for the men she is the kind of woman they likely dreamed of having and for the women her attractiveness is what they aspired to be. She epitomizes an escape for them – someone who has no failing farm or business and no children or spousal responsibility. They're drawn to her like moths to a light.What obscures the abandonment issues in the book are the obvious marriage issues that are put under a magnifying glass, as well as the children who are affected by marital breakdown. The hardships during the 1930's force many men to do the unthinkable - to abandon everything - their hopes and dreams and their families. They all have their reasons, but what's left in their wake are the women and children who often then rely on the tight knit communities to help them get by.This is a book that speaks to many complex issues, but also gives an accurate portrayal of all the hardships that those early families faced and how they pulled together in communities to get through the unthinkable. The losses are all laid bare. How much can the human spirit endure? Gault sheds a light on how much, and why we should know about the kind of spirit and perseverance it took to get through those harsh years.

  • Nicola Mansfield
    2019-03-07 09:30

    3.5/5. I enjoyed this book. It was a quick and easy read for me. I liked the characters and this was important as it is an entirely character driven book. The plot is fairly simple. Set during the depression, in Saskatchewan, a poverty-stricken 18yo girl leaves one evening from a town hall dance with a stranger in his Roadster. I really enjoyed the narrative technique which I found rather unique. Each chapter is titled after a town that the couple journeys through. First, we are introduced to a resident of the town and then Bill and Elena will cross paths with them. The glimpses of all these secondary characters are very intimate and while the "beauty" of the title is Elena we become attached to the others as well. The story meanders back and forth between the various towns until twenty years later in the fifties when we see the same people, some of them came out of the depression with better lives, others not so much. It is a lovely, flowing, character driven story with no real action, which is ok, I don't need plot-based novels. My main problem with the book was its upbeat tempo, there was no real crisis, the one major plot point that needed to be answered was left dangling and the ending was too hopeful. I've read other depression era Canadian prairie literature and had expected stark reality over this optimism. Not bad but not what I had anticipated.

  • Decaf1
    2019-02-22 09:37

    Dry and dusty as a hot prairie day. The key attribute of protagonist Elena Huhtala is that she is beautiful. Beyond that, the author carefully guards and limits Elena's intellect and emotions. It's hard to believe that Elena completed a high school education or had any friends. Elena appears to attract and be picked up by men who she then discards like used tissues when she wants to move on. Loneliness and dysfunctional relationships seem to be central themes. After reading a third of the novel, the author pulls the story to a screeching halt when Elena asks Bill to stop the car and walks away both literally and figuratively from the story. Elena and Bill do reappear later in the novel but it seems as if she needed to drop Elena from the narrative in order to introduce a new character Ruth and as a means to move the timeline of the story leaving a large gap. Did the author walk away from the story as well?The story does include some interesting characters and scenarios. You also gain an insight of the challenges of trying to subsist in the prairies during lean times. Many of the characters seem to want to leave their situations in the prairies. I was happy to finish reading the book and leave the prairies behind.

  • Melissa
    2019-03-06 09:38

    This novel follows Helena, a teenage girl abandoned by her father, a failed farmer who has disappeared, assumed dead by his own hand, during the depression era in drought ridden Saskatchewan. We follow a starving Helena to a local dance where she meets a stranger and takes her chances, hopping into his car and onto roads unknown.The story's characters consist of those Helena meets on her adventure and how she has affected them with her captivating aura and haunting sadness. The story picks up when her father returns to the farm to find her gone and Persues her, always a day late and a dollar short. We learn the narrator halfway through the book, this in itself was confusing as this is when the character was introduced and would have had no knowledge of prior events. I also found the emotions of characters to be unrealistic, too deep and not deep enough in other cases. Other than this it was an okay read, though slow at times, and I'm afraid the message the author was trying to convey was lost on me. I received a copy of this novel through a goodreads first reads giveaway.

  • Laura
    2019-03-09 02:30

    3.5 stars.I got this through First Reads. A Beauty is written in very lovely prose, and it really conjures a bleak-but-homey setting of Saskatchewan in the 1930s, and later. I enjoyed reading it, but this book is slow to move along and doesn't have any real action aside from the gossip that spreads through each chapter. I also didn't quite understand why it needed to be in a fist-person narrative from Ruth's point of view, since she's only in about half the scenes, and it's not really clear why she would know so much detail about what she wasn't present for. I would have been fine with the entire thing being in third person; it would have made the book flow a little easier. That aside, there was something very romantic and powerful about the story, and it made me interested to see where it would all lead, but it didn't quite end where I wanted it to at the same time.

  • Shan
    2019-03-25 02:23

    I wanted to read this novel because it instantly jumped out at me as being in the same vein as Cool Water by Dianne Warren. Everyday people, simple surroundings, complicated lives - I was instantly reminded of that book when I saw this one and that is why I picked it up. And the comparison was worth it, if you enjoyed Cool Water, you will enjoy A Beauty.Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I may have felt that some parts were stronger than others, but the strong parts make up for the weak parts and thus, this is a good book. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others looking for CanLit, especially people who enjoy books about this part of our beautiful country.You can read my full review here

  • Andrea MacPherson
    2019-03-10 04:32

    Actually a 3.5. I've been trying to articulate what I felt about this book. I loved the actual writing--Gault uses language incredibly well--and I was interested in the various perspectives and storylines. But something kept me from feeling really engaged and invested in the storyline. Perhaps it was a distance, or lack of immediacy. I still can't quite put my finger on it. I will say that I wasn't convinced that Elena Huhtala was as beguiling as I was told she was. There was a lot of exposition to tell me that everyone was drawn to her (and, strangely, a lot of discussion of her brown dress, and how plain it was, and how she was not wearing a bra). I never truly saw the allure of Elena in the narrative.

  • Sherry
    2019-03-22 03:19

    A Beauty is a beautifully written novel that realistically captures village life in the Saskatchewan prairies during the Depression Era and into the 1960s. The main character, Elena, is a lonely Finnish young woman whose presence affects the locals in various ways, some more than others. Ruth, a young girl, is especially haunted by her chance encounter with Elena and the unwanted bond that develops between them is at the heart of this moving novel. I especially liked the author's exploration of love and loss and the many ways people love one another. This novel unearths deep insights into the nature of home and where one comes from, as well as the power of forgiveness. I received this advance reading copy free through Goodreads First Read.

  • Kari
    2019-03-18 08:41

    A Beauty A definite fitting title in many ways but more because the book is filled with beauty in a way. Not only are the descriptions of emotions hauntingly real but also of the Saskatchewan landscape and life in the 30's. Almost all of the characters have been residing in the back if my mind and a few will stick with me long after I forget details and plot. A haunting yet lovely plot of desperation which leads to change for all involved. more especially Elena and Ruthie and Bill on the surface but deep down the small prairie towns and Matti. I am excited to read more by author, Connie Gault and to hopefully hear her presentation during 2016's Festival of Words.

  • Gina
    2019-03-23 02:38

    3 1/2 *** rating.This is a story that is windswept, ethereal and lovely as it slips through time and space. He went to the bedroom and dressed automatically. Buckling his belt, tying his tie and then his shoes, he stared into the past as if it existed in the next room, as if it could explain itself if he walked through the door. 192/244And wasn't that a nice way to think about it? Disappointing. So calm a word, so accepting, no rage in it, and not too much pain. 209Carl Gustafson had waged a long and courageous battle with dignity. 217

  • Alexis
    2019-03-10 05:33

    I loved the structure, concept and writing in this book, but felt I got lost in the many characters. The story follows one character, a Finnish woman, as she leaves her small town in Saskatchewan and travels to a variety of other towns, disrupting life in a number of villages. The story is told from a number of points of view. I liked the concept a lot, but found that I kept on getting lost. This is probably my fault as a reader, and has nothing to do with the author.The 1930s Saskatchewan setting was interesting and I enjoyed the depiction.

  • Tara
    2019-03-22 03:27

    A prairie road trip that moves through both space and time and eventually makes its way back to the beginning. Although the novel centres around Elena with the journey originally appearing to be hers, the author uses her to introduce the other characters through their reaction to and interactions with Elena. The other characters are often on journeys themselves, even those who stay in the same place for the entirety of the novel. Beautiful read with an open ending that I loved rather than was frustrated by.

  • Tracie
    2019-02-27 02:37

    3.5 stars, I will say the book is beautifully written and enjoyable enough. I just never connected with the characters. The main character Elena, in particular never feels fully realized. I didn't understand her motivation and she seemed so detached and distant. Maybe that was the point. I did appreciate that this was set in Canada and could picture those old prairie towns having visited one similar once.

  • Myrtle Siebert
    2019-02-28 07:38

    An interesting story well rendered about a location and part of history I have only stories of others, no intimate knowledge. For all but one character the author includes their innermost thoughts. Throughout the book I felt a need to know what Elena's thoughts were and as the book ended I was frustrated by having no reasons given for her actions even then. This feature made for a disappointing ending.

  • Enid Wray
    2019-03-11 02:22

    The prairie girl in me loved this book. This novel is really like a set of connected short stories, each segment rich with descriptive detail, the words, the phrasing, the emotions all beautifully crafted. Nothing "happens" yet everything happens. A book to be taken time with, to listen to the myriad characters and voices, and to marvel at the way everything and everyone is connected.

  • Sarah C
    2019-02-23 07:38

    Wow. One of the best works I've read in a long time. Words and phrases so decadent, so perfectly essential, this novel is--please forgive me--Elizabeth Hay with plot. I was floored by Ms Gault's literary talent. "Fifteen Dogs" won the Giller prize but doesn't hold a candle to this. Read if you love the beauty of the written word.

  • Penny (Literary Hoarders)
    2019-02-24 03:25

    I'm sure i went into this one at the wrong time. Not that this weather we're currently having isn't a match to the weather in the story! I just had a hard time staying with it. It was a bit too slow and awkward - I may attempt it later on?