Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
ISBN: 978-0-7710-8646-5 (0-7710-8646-6)
Pub Date: August 31, 2010
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1. Why is it so appropriate that Liz, the narrator of the novel, is a specialist in the Monarch butterfly? What are some connections between these butterflies and the Butler family?
2. People in the Renaissance were obsessed by something they called Mutability – the fact that everything constantly changes, ages, dies and decays. That is perhaps the central theme of Sanctuary Line, as the narrator, Liz, describes a landscape, a livelihood and a way of life that is irretrievably gone. Looking out at the disarray of the orchards, she is still surprised "that there are neither ancestors nor Mexicans busy in the fields and trees.” Even as the landscape of her childhood gives way to condominiums and shopping malls and almost no one shares her memories, she worries that "the past will eat me alive, will devour me in the same way that the now abundantly overgrown cedar bush is devouring the pioneer rail fences ..." Discuss the role that memory, change and extinction play in her uncle Stanley Butler’s generation and in Liz’s.
3. Buildings are vulnerable in Sanctuary Line. Two barns are burned, Stanley destroys a garage by driving his car through it, a barn that has been moved is destroyed in a minute by a tornado, and Stanley significantly damages his house by attempting to bring house and chimney together by force. How do all these ruined and broken buildings relate to the themes of the novel?
4. Children and young people are also particularly vulnerable in this novel. One of Stanley’s favourites stories of the "great-greats" in the past concerns the two little boys who drowned in a storm at their lighthouse. The grownups enjoy laughing at a sentimental 19th-century poem about a five-year-old who died. A teen-ager dies in the novel, and Amanda’s death is also tragically premature. Is the teen-ager’s death meant to prefigure/symbolize Amanda’s death? How could these tragedies have been prevented? Are they part of a larger theme she is elaborating?
5. There are three couples in the book who originate from different cultures. None of their pairings ends happily. Amanda’s lover explains to Liz that he could never bring her cousin fully into his own life, nor could she bring him into hers: "This stone house, these meadows, orchards full of flowering trees created her. That, and growing up without ever once having to ask yourself where you belonged." Do you see his belief that we are somehow locked in our origins as realistic or overly deterministic or pessimistic? Do you think the author shares his feeling? If so, why? Can you imagine a life together for any of these couples?
6. Watching a Coast Guard search-and-rescue exercise that involves orbs of light reflected on the water, Liz thinks, "Their appearance was like a rehearsal of tragedy with just a hint of possible redemption trembling at the edge." Is this a reasonable description of Sanctuary Line? Does the book end with a "hint of possible redemption," and if so, how would you describe it?
7. Someone once said that the best titles of books involve a paradox. There is something paradoxical or at least faintly disquieting about the idea of a "sanctuary line." We think of sanctuaries as destinations that promise safety, not lines. Why does Jane Urquhart give her book that title? What are some of the various meanings of sanctuary in the novel?
8. The novel’s epigraph, from Steven Crane, also appears in the body of the novel, when Liz’s great-great-uncle Gerald discovers to his horror that he has failed in his duty "to provide sanctuary," and eventually kills himself. Responsibility is an important theme in Sanctuary Line. What does the novel suggest about the responsibilities we owe to our families, our land, our country? What happens when we neglect or misunderstand those responsibilities?
9. Much of the novel is presented in a deliberate, almost stately way, as Liz remembers the past. Then, without warning, in the last 50 or so pages, a rapid and shocking series of events unfolds, followed by the solution of a mystery that has preoccupied Liz for years. Discuss the effect of this shift in narrative speed: How do this acceleration and the dramatic events that unfold interact with the more elegiac, ruminative approach?
10. Although it does not read like a conventional mystery story, there are several mysteries in Sanctuary Line. (Even the identity of the "you" to whom Liz addresses the story remains unknown until the end.) Some but not all are resolved at the end of the book. Did the answers take you by surprise, or did you predict some of them? Do the revelations at the end cause you to re-think your reading or re-shift some allegiances? If so, which ones and in what way? Mystery writers try to give their readers the clues they need to solve the mystery: has Urquhart used that technique?
11. Sanctuary Line includes some spectacular, symbolic acts of violence – Stanley driving his car through the tasteful board-and-batten garage, Liz throwing her aunt’s roses in the lake, Sadie smashing and then re-gluing her precious collection of pressed glass. What do they tell us about the particular stresses of the characters, and why are the objects upon which they vent their wrath so appropriate?
12. Teo is an interesting character because even while Liz seems to have little curiosity about him – not knowing his last name or the name of his village while they become increasingly intimate – he gradually takes on reality and solidity for the reader. What do we know about him and how does Urquhart convey this?
13. Discuss the many dichotomies in Sanctuary Line – between land and water, between Canada and the U.S., between the past and the present, between the world of poetry and the world of action, between a life devoted to science or reason and the pull of passion. Do they underscore or strengthen any of Urquhart’s other themes?
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