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The Island Walkers (2003)

by John Bemrose

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
242591,232 (3.59)68
For generations, the Walkers have lived in the Island, a small, working class mill-town beside Ontario's Attawan River. But in the summer of 1965 their peace is shattered. When a union organiser comes to town, Alf Walker is forced to choose between loyalty to his friends and advancement up the company ranks. His decision threatens to overwhelm not only his own life, but also his family. Through the course of the book, we come to know the Walkers intimately - Alf, as he attempts to keep ahead of these turbulent events; his son Joe, whose world is overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love; and his wife Margaret, who must reconcile her English upbringing with the world in which she finds herself. The Island Walkers is a deeply moving novel of a family struggling to make its way through a changing world. Written with remarkable understanding and perception, it reveals a writer of rare vision and accomplishment.… (more)
  1. 00
    Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (lkernagh)
    lkernagh: Same evocative prose, wonderfully drawn characters and mesmerizing storytelling.
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» See also 68 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
Loved, loved, loved this book. I am coming to it late but someone recommended. It reminded me of my childhood and teenage years. The language was the perfect amount of description mixed with plot. I could see his settings in my mind's eye. I was a little surprised by the ending but it did not change my opinion of the book. ( )
  FurbyKirby | Jan 5, 2021 |
A town of two rivers, its plunging valley an anomaly in the tedious southwestern Ontario plain.
Bridges. Water at dusk. The play of ghosts on the sloping face of a dam.
High windows shot with gold, glimpsed among maples. Streets that beckon and disappear. The traveller, coming across this place, might be forgiven for imagining that life is better here.


So begins The Island Walkers, Bemrose's debut novel of a working class family in a small, southwestern Ontario mill town during the mid-1960's. Alf Walker works as a fixer in the local textile mill, just like his father before him. His wife Margaret, an English war bride from a respectable middle class upbringing, raises the family and is active in the church choir. Their oldest, Joe, is completing his senior year of high school with girl troubles and aspirations of attending university. 12-year old daughter Penny, diagnosed with diabetes and 8-year old son Jamie who befriends a native aboriginal boy, round out the family. The story focuses on one year, a year filled with a series of events started off by a labour dispute at the mill. Tough, questionable decisions are made that propel the story, and the family, into a spiral of uncertainties, mistrust, tested loyalties, the questioning of beliefs and the growing pains of facing an ever changing world.

For a debut novel, I was blown away by Bemrose's prose and his ability to poignantly capture time and place and transport the reader into the Walker's lives. At the end of the story, I felt as though I had experienced the events with the Walkers and was sad to see it end - almost a family saga without trying to be one. This is a story to read and savor, not rush through. Bemrose lays his characters bare with a skill on par with some of my favorite authors - Timothy Findley, David Adams Richards and Richard Russo - while still leaving his own stamp on the work.

The only downside, and the reason it doesn't get a full 5.00 decimal rating, is that towards the end, the prose started to weaken and falter. The ending left me wishing Bemrose had handled it a little differently but those are my only quibbles with this amazing story.

Overall, a brilliant debut novel that has earned Bemrose a place alongside my favorite authors and one I highly recommend! ( )
5 vote lkernagh | Apr 8, 2012 |
This is the kind of story you can really sink into. After reading it, I felt as if I had lived with the Walker family; I got to know them and understand their hopes and fears.

Alf Walker works in a knitting mill. He was a radical union organizer in 1949 with disappointing results for him and his co-workers. Now, 15 years later, the union is trying to move in again and Alf examines his loyalties and priorities.

On the home front, Alf is married to Margaret, a war bride from England. His son, Joe, is a senior in high school. Joe is struggling to find his place in the world and his relationships with his father, as well as with girlfried Liz and love of his life, Anna, were, to me, the most interesting plot line in this multi-faceted story.

Alf and Margaret have two other children: 12-year-old Penny who suffers from diabetes and Jamie, whose friendship with an Indian boy causes concerns with both parents, but for different reasons.

This story evolves over the course of a year as we watch the Walker family react to profound changes in their individual lives and in their community. The writing is beautiful, the characters are real. This is a book to get lost in. ( )
1 vote LynnB | Aug 9, 2010 |
Good story of family in southwestern Ontario, ca 1950s. Ending a disappointment. ( )
  hornelma | Aug 10, 2007 |
Highly readable book narrated by a precocious teenager in an Ontario mill town. As the town's and his family's fortunes fail, his father is drawn into radical unionism. Good story. ( )
  piefuchs | Nov 12, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
Thankfully The Island Walkers never becomes the soap opera it easily could have, but in its final stages the prose is not as delightful to read.
added by lkernagh | editQuill & Quire, Craig Taylor (Jul 1, 2003)
 
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For Cathleen and for Alex
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A town of two rivers, its plunging valley an anomlay in the tedious southwestern Ontario plain.
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For generations, the Walkers have lived in the Island, a small, working class mill-town beside Ontario's Attawan River. But in the summer of 1965 their peace is shattered. When a union organiser comes to town, Alf Walker is forced to choose between loyalty to his friends and advancement up the company ranks. His decision threatens to overwhelm not only his own life, but also his family. Through the course of the book, we come to know the Walkers intimately - Alf, as he attempts to keep ahead of these turbulent events; his son Joe, whose world is overturned by the passion and uncertainty of young love; and his wife Margaret, who must reconcile her English upbringing with the world in which she finds herself. The Island Walkers is a deeply moving novel of a family struggling to make its way through a changing world. Written with remarkable understanding and perception, it reveals a writer of rare vision and accomplishment.

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