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Author Frances Itani sits in on virtual Hawkesbury Library Book Club meeting to discuss “Tell,” answer questions

At book club meetings, members usually discuss a book they have just read, sharing their opinions and often, their thinking on the meaning behind an author’s words. On Tuesday (January 12), Hawkesbury Library Book Club members welcomed the ultimate authority on the book being discussed.

Canadian author and member of the Order of Canada Frances Itani joined the Hawkesbury Library English Book Club on Zoom for their discussion of her novel Tell on January 12. Tell, shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2014, is one of 18 best-selling books written by Itani.

The book club members had previously read Itani’s Deafening (2003) and had travelled to Hudson to hear her speak during the 2019 Greenwood Storyfest.  Deafening has been translated into 17 languages and has been optioned for a film. Tell follows four characters from this earlier novel, both set in post-war 1919 in small-town Deseronto, Ontario. These characters were back stories although overshadowed in Deafening, ultimately had their own stories to reveal. Itani returned to them after writing her favourite book, Remembering the Bones, a favourite because it was so much fun to write after spending six years of doing research for Deafening. Tell examines untold secrets and how those very secrets we bury to protect ourselves can be our undoing. It also deals with the effects of trauma (shell shock – now known as PTSD) resulting from World War I on a young soldier as he tries to resume normal life back in Canada. Around all the characters hovers the town’s protective silence—some things are just not talked about.

The third novel in the trilogy of the O’Neil family is That’s My Baby (2017) set in two time periods 1998 and 1939 with World War II, big bands and jazz providing social background.

Book club members were privileged and delighted to hear Itani talk about the inspirations for her novel and answer questions posed by the members. Pauline Sarrazin moderated the Zoom meeting with the author and 10 other members of the book club.  Itani describes herself as a really curious person. It generally takes a lot of research and three to four years to write a novel. Itani is particularly interested in the early twentieth century and especially the social goings-on in Canada of that time.  An example from Tell would be Itani’s account of Aunt Maggie’s exotic home remedies. Another would be the meeting in Toronto of untrained singer Aunt Maggie with Nellie Melba, an internationally-known Australian songstress of the period.  The clock tower on the post office is a major focal point of the novel; Aunt Maggie and her husband Am live there and Am spends a lot of time peering out at the world. Itani’s great-great aunt and uncle actually occupied that clock tower apartment.

The Company We Keep, published in August 2020, is Ms. Itani’s latest contemporary novel which deals with the stories of six strangers united by death and discovering the importance of community and the commonalities and universal condition of loss and grief.

More information about Frances Itani and her work can be found on Francesitani.com.

This item was submitted by Eva Levesque, Hawkesbury Library English Book Club Liaison.

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