Sheldon Currie,
The Glace Bay Miners' Museum
(1995; Breton, 2005)

Cape Breton, now a hotbed of traditional music and a vibrant community on the Atlantic coast of modern Canada, once subsisted mostly on an economy built on coal. The Glace Bay Miners' Museum is a "Glad You Aren't Here" postcard from author Sheldon Currie, who lays bare the hardships of a time not all that long ago.

The story centers on Margaret, an unusual young woman who has paid too high a price for the coal that sustains her community. Death in the pit was all too common at the time, and she has already lost a great deal. But after meeting Neil, an opinionated mad piper, she's ready to risk her heart again.

This novel is brief, but all the more dramatic for its brevity. You get to know the characters very well in a short span of pages, which makes their troubles and triumphs all the more real. An air of gloom hangs over the text, however, enough to presage the tragic events you know will come.

The story is best known to many through the 1995 film Margaret's Museum, starring Helena Bonham Carter. The book offers a different experience, though, and should be mandatory reading for anyone who's ever been touched by a taste of Cape Breton.

review by
Tom Knapp

19 January 2008

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