The Next Chapter

Martha Wainwright's reading material is all in the family

Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright on a family memoir written by her aunts, Anna and Jane McGarrigle.
Musician Martha Wainwright says she loves reading about her mother's youth in her aunts' memoir, Mountain City Girls. (Carl Lessard)

Martha Wainwright's immediate and extended family are performers and songwriters. Her mother was Kate McGarrigle, who performed with her sister Anna (and sometimes her other sister, Jane) until her death in 2010. Wainwright was on the road this week promoting her new album Goodnight City, and she brought along the book Mountain City Girls, written by her aunts Jane and Anna McGarrigle.

My aunts wrote a book called Mountain City Girls, which is the story of their life in their youth. It's an amazing portrait of the Laurentian town of Saint-Sauveur in the '40s, '50s and '60s.They worked on this book for several years, and the premise is actually their parents and the life that they had as children. It goes up to the McGarrigles' first record. So it's not really a biography of Kate and Anna McGarrigle and their music careers, more the town they grew up in and perhaps why they are the way they are as artists and women.

I spent every weekend of my childhood in Saint-Sauveur. As the book talks about, it is the ancestral home. The house was built by my grandfather, Frank McGarrigle, whom I never met — he died when my mother was 19. My grandmother lived there until she died when she was 91. Now it's a house that all of us in the family share — mostly peacefully and with lots of joy. It's a very interesting spot — it has a little bit of magic in it.

I think my favourite parts of the book are the descriptions of my mother and the type of person she was. It's been a wonderful gift to be able to get such a clear picture of my mother's youth.

Martha Wainwright's comments have been edited and condensed.