Monday November 06, 2017

Wayne Johnston on how one wrong thing can ruin your whole life

Wayne Johnston's latest novel is First Snow, Last Light.

Wayne Johnston's latest novel is First Snow, Last Light. (Mark Raynes Roberts/Knopf Canada)

Listen 12:31

Sometimes life as you know it can change forever. It's one of these course-correction moments that opens Wayne Johnston's new novel, First Snow, Last Light, and Johnston gives his protagonist a show stopper. Ned Vatcher is 14 years old, and one day, returning from school in early winter, he comes home to find it empty. His parents have vanished completely, leaving him abandoned and alone. The story follows Ned as he struggles to solve the mystery of his parents' disappearance.

First Snow, Last Light is full of Newfoundland's fierce history and muscular landscape. This is familiar terrain for the author of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a 1998 Giller Prize nominee defended by Justin Trudeau on Canada Reads in 2003.

Setting the tone right from the title

"Throughout the book, there are moments of intervention when things happen, after which the characters' lives are never the same again. Snow recurs throughout as a motif of obliteration, of covering up. Last light probably needs no explanation, it means the ending of something — an oncoming darkness from which a character will try to grope their way through."

Events in life can cast spells on us

"There are many spells in life. There are the spells of hatred, vengeance, lust and greed. The spell of the Vatchers is the spell of spite. When things happen to the Vatcher family, when they are wounded in life, they become frozen in time. They develop a sense of spite against whoever wounded them, becoming these grotesque characters who can't move on."

The possibility of healing

"Apart from interventions in people's lives, the things that happen in this book create opportunities for characters to change their own natures. All the people who need healing in the book are trying to forgive themselves and find a sense of communion with another human soul."

Wayne Johnston's comments have been edited and condensed.