Ananias was one of the best books I read last year. Why I am only writing about it now is a whole other story, not nearly as interesting as the story of Ananias.
This novel was inspired by the author’s obsession with family genealogy. Ananias Case was a real person, the great-great-great grandfather of James Case, and this is the story of how and why he came to Newfoundland in 1826.
The book starts with a brutal scene involving a shovel, but ends with a tenderness between two brothers who realize they will never see each other again. They both need to leave the country immediately after what they’ve done. The younger of these men is Ananias.
The expression on John’s face was not contorted with fear or regret over the act committed, but with the deep sadness of knowing he would never lay eyes on me again. He held me at arm’s length with a hand on each of my shoulders, as if to burn my face into his memory. Then he pulled me close in such an embrace that I have never gathered from any man.
(An aside for Jane Austen fans: Ananias’ brother John Case sailed with Charles Austen: “The master, Captain Charles Austen, was legendary–far more at the time than his late sister who had caused such a sensation among the officers’ wives with her ironic parodies.“)
So Ananias finds himself in Carbonear Newfoundland; alone, with nothing, knowing he can never go back to see his family, and knowing he might always be looking back over his shoulder.
Fortunately for Ananias, he is a likable and capable young man; he is quickly offered a job and makes some friends.
“It’s a rugged place, Mr. Case. Cold and wild. Now Carbonear have been built up since I been goin’. Big as compared t’ many of the villages in Cornwall, but rough–everything just thrown together. A pile of grey wood boards like nobody haves any intention of stayin’.”
Nevermore Press put together a two-part book launch for Ananias in which James Case presents two short slideshows: Part 1 is on the settings in the novel, and Part 2 is about the real life people and events that take place in the book. If you’re a history buff or just interested in more detail about the people and places in the book, I urge you to watch; James provides pictures of the villages and landscapes, old maps and documents, and at the end of Part 2 the oldest tombstone in the Methodist graveyard of Carbonear (1832) – that of James’ great-great-great grandmother Grace.
James Case is a self-professed stickler for accuracy, and the reader benefits from this – you are never in doubt as to the time and place as each chapter is well marked; from Wanderwell 1826 and The Traflagar Way 1825, to Bemister Hill 1827, and Flathead 1832. (Among many others.)
But Ananias is about so much more than history and facts. Ananias–the man–was born in 1808 into a close-knit family who had obvious affection for one another. He meets a poor man and his son on his journey and does what he can to help them out. His friendship with Will in Newfoundland is playful and affectionate. His desire to be polite and fit in is endearing; at times he feels his British manners are too formal for such a laid-back, friendly place. “English formality confronted Irish and West Country hospitality here.”
I can’t let this go without a word about the dialogue, which is part of what helps to keep the story light. The characters have been given just the right amount of dialect – enough to give you the flavour of it without slowing you down. It’s funny at times, and playful. For example, the guilt and worry Ananias feels over the crime he committed back in England must weigh heavily, but the author reminds us of it with a light touch: “Methodist guilt, I thought as my brain struggled to switch topics, has as many triggers as Catholic guilt, but with far less opportunity for regular purging.” And the dialogue between Ananias and Will is fun.
“I’m thinking of leaving the firm,” I confided to Will.
“Glad to know ye’re thinking. I knows far too many never thinks,” replied Will.
“My apprenticeship is done.”
“Ye be movin’ on I take it.”
“Not far. Might take up teaching.”
“I was thinkin’ to take up learnin’.”
Much of the brilliance of this book is in the meticulously researched and rich details of the places, characters and the time in which they lived. It’s the type of book I would like to quote for you from beginning to end. This is not serious, distant historical fiction – it’s funny and engaging and the characters feel alive. I feel sorry to think these people are no longer around.
Charis Cotter: “But never mind these well-researched details—you’ll get lost in the story about a man in search of a new life, at a time when the world remains deeply inequitable, unstable and fast-changing.”
Another book by Nevermore Press I’ve enjoyed is Broken Symmetry by Rosalie Osmond
Thank you to Nevermore Press for providing me with a copy of this fabulous book!