A rich and compelling novel about murder in a claustrophobic Newfoundland community from bestselling and award-winning novelist Donna Morrissey
I am delighted and honoured to be the final stop on the tour with The Fortunate Brother, a novel that quite unexpectedly blew me away.
Written by Canadian author, Donna Morrissey, it was my first introduction to her writing so I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to read this novel and to bring you both my review and a Q & A with the writer herself today.
I would like to thank Becca Nice of CanonGate for giving me this wonderful opportunity and as ever would like to add that my review is voluntary and without bias….
A dark, atmospheric and compelling novel about the aftermath of a murder in a claustrophobic rural community in Newfoundland.
When a body is found in the lake suspicion falls on the troubled Now family and as the mystery unfolds other, far deeper, secrets are revealed.
Weaving together love, grief and murder with an expert use of dialect, lyricism, suspense and sense of place, The Fortunate Brother perfectly captures the story of a family and a community in turmoil, the loyalty and secrecy that breeds in rural communities and paints a vivid portrait of the struggles of domestic tension, sibling rivalry and the need to preserve a loved one’s dignity.
‘Donna Morrissey is one of Canada’s finest writers. And this novel might very well be her most powerful to date… I can’t recommend this book highly enough.’
JOSEPH BOYDEN, author of THREE DAY ROAD
The Fortunate Brother is a novel set in a small community in Newfoundland. There is an immediate feeling of bleakness and desolation in the opening pages that runs through this novel that Donna Morrissey portrays so well.
Kyle Now is a young man on the cusp of spreading his wings, with the possibility of taking up a place in college. Trying to cope with the aftermath of losing his brother in a tragic accident, Kyle remains in a constant state of angst. Living at home with his mother Addie and his father Sylvanus, Kyle seems to be almost lost as he watches his father unable to cope with the loss of his son turn to the bottle for solace.
The community they live in is one of greyness and despondency where the daily activities of life is a drudge and portrays the very harsh realities of living in such an isolated society. This is a rural community who look out for each other in times of anguish and celebrate together in times of joy.
An unexpected discovery of a dead body throws the community into disarray. With the finger of guilt pointing to the Now family, they close ranks as the police look for the evidence that will point to the murderer.
The Now family have been through a very rough period. With some additional personal issues to be dealt with, their lives are harsh and exhausting to witness.
As the story unfolds we are exposed to the grueling stories of others within this rural ‘outport’ as they too have challenging lives to lead.
But…and here’s the thing, throughout all the brutal starkness as you turn the pages, there is a sense of forgiveness, of purpose, of love and ultimately of hope….
There are many who will struggle with this novel as there is a very stark thread running through the story. The conversations between the locals is very much driven by dialect and it does take time to immerse yourself in the writing.
But take my word once you do you will find yourself transported and completely engrossed by the lives of this strong resilient community. The sense of place is so strong in this book where it is so obvious that Donna Morrissey is writing from the heart and from experience.
For anyone looking for a literary style read, The Fortunate Brother may be just what you are looking for and one I most certainly recommend
Purchase Link ~ The Fortunate Brother
Don’t go anywhere just yet though folks because I have an excellent Q & A session with Donna…..so without further ado…
Welcome Donna to Swirl and Thread!! It is an absolute pleasure to have you join us here today.
Sooo happy to be here, thank you!!
A native of The Beaches, Newfoundland, can you share with us all what life was liking growing up in a small fishing port?
Looking back it was quite extraordinary.
There were no roads, no electricity, till I was about ten. There were 15 to 20 houses and we weren’t allowed to talk to some of them and so you’d think ‘small’. And yet, put a bell jar over that outport and you would see all the great loves, tragedies, the great mysteries, and all those things in between that constitute a life.
It was a place of strong women who did the birthing and burying and all things in between whilst the men were mostly absent on the sea or in camps. Which explains the strong women in my stories.
Frig, when they hollered ‘dinner’, you didn’t dally. You scrubbed your hands on your jeans as you were runnin for the table!!
I was reading that your path to writing followed a life changing moment. What was the incident that inspired you to put pen to paper?
A horrible moment. I was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given up to six months to live. Arrggh!! I suffered for years from post-traumatic shock syndrome. During that hell I went to university, studied psychology, looking for a cure. There wasn’t a lot being said or done about that kind of illness back then. I didn’t find a cure for PTSD, but I sure found lots of company. And pathways. And one of them led me straight into writing. And no, it wasn’t worth it.
Mental illness takes everything.
But, I am happy to be a survivor and I love writing.
Thank You, God.
You are now an acclaimed author of five novels, with this being your sixth, if I am correct. In researching for this Q & A I kept coming across reference to your novel ‘Kit’s Law’ a novel set in a village on the rocky shores of Newfoundland. What is this book about?
This novel is still selling.
It’s the story of Kit, a girl with a mentally challenged mother, Josie, and her feisty grandmother, Lizzy. When the mentally incompetent Josie gives birth to Kit, she raises the ire of the more prominent community members. They hold that Kit ought to be removed from her impoverished home with her mother and feisty grandmother, Lizzy, and placed in an orphanage.
Angered by her neighbours’ judgement of her mentally incompetent daughter, and outraged by the notion that she isn’t fit to raise a youngster, Lizzy rejects the plan and commences raising Kit with a vengeance. Suddenly, Lizzy dies, leaving Kit and Josie at the mercy of the outporters.
And there the story begins……
The Fortunate Brother is described as a book inspired by your own family experience. Can you please share with us all the background to the novel and how you feel about revealing such a personal experience in the public domain?
It’s a hard story.
Thirty years ago I lost my brother in a terrible accident on the oilfields of Alberta. We had gone there together to make money and help our father who’d just suffered a heart attack. His death rocked our world and 30 years later it is still playing itself out.
The Fortunate Brother is inspired by the fall-out of that event. It is a novel that incorporates other themes as well: poverty, stigma, judgement. And so it becomes its own story with its own characters and I feel safely insulated amidst all of that.
There have been comparisons made to Annie Proulx, Tess Hadly and Anne Enright with your writings. As an author are these comparisons something you welcome or are they more of a burden of pressure?
No doubt they are heady compliments. Yea!!!
Luckily, I’m deeply cemented in my own “voice’, and it’s what has brought me success. And so it doesn’t affect my writing in any way.
But it suuure looks good as a blurb on the back of my novels. For that I am immensely grateful.
Who are the literary influences in your life? Any favourite authors?
George Eliot. She’s my Goddess. My books are nothing like hers, she’s far too brilliant and wonderful, but the beauty and the passion of her writing fires me. And she gives permission to go into the emotional journey of a character, and to follow him/her through their darkest hour.
And I LOVE Cormac McCarthy.
What are you reading now?
Cormac McCarthy’s Suttre.
And Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.
And, Cry My Beloved Country – I forget the author, omg, it’s gorgeous!!!!
Oh, and Hearts of Stone by Brad Smith…he’s gorgeous too. I mean his book 🙂
What next for Donna Morrissey?
Am deep into the bowels of a new novel.
Thank you so much Donna for being so wonderful in answering all my questions.
It was such a pleasure having you join me here on Swirl and Thread today. I sincerely wish you all the very best with your future writing and look forward to hearing about your next novel when all is revealed.
Donna Morrissey is the award-winning author of five novels – Kit’s Law, Downhill Chance, Sylvanus Now, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, What They Wanted, and The Deception of Livvy Higgs – as well as the Gemini Award-winning screenplay Clothesline Patch.
Morrissey grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland, and now lives in Halifax, Canada.