Passchendaele, November, 1917 Lilian Nichols, young British ambulance driver with the Canadian Army, rescues her French Canadian twin brother from the ' slough of despond ', not recognizing him, never knowing he existed.Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey, England, 2000 Lilian's spirit nudges Marie Rioux, Quebec City lawyer searching her 'anglo' roots, into 'rescuing' a tobacco company whistleblower -- and into the twisted sights of a hit-man addicted to opera.Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight The spirits of Julia Cameron, Victorian photographer and Virginia Woolf''s great-aunt, and Alfred Tennyson, her I.O.W. neighbour, rally to preserve Marie, an unlikely romance, and her quest for a "life of one's own" -- sacrifice, violence and passion, threaded in history.
OttawaFormer Canadian Representative, The Brontë Society
"A character in The Ambulance Driver recalls Morley Callaghan saying something about life being a violin of more than one string. Chris McNaught's is definitely a book of more than one string...it is a veritable " harp of life ", of chords, of interlacing threads, weaving past and present, taking us into so many worlds, a book far denser than it looks, so much more than its 267 pages.
The Ambulance Driver is much more than the story of Marie Rioux, Quebec lawyer who" used to spend ninety percent of (her) time pleading the fraudulent unsound cases of second-rate people, and a hundred percent of it suppressing instinct and desires " ; it is an affaire with Victorian luminaries and a taste of the "gas-swill " hell of WWI; it is a harsh light on the ugly underworld of the cigarette industry and a sun-filled tour of the bucolic world of Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Chris McNaught writes with great beauty and wit, a beguiling combination. He describes the ambience in a military cemetery, "…in the early evening air, the fraternity of lives lived and snuffed in a flare of a match, convene in whispers of what might have been " and the paintings in the Watts Galleries: " the denizens of the principal gallery upstairs, bustled in a world of dark tail-coats, virgin gowns and scarlet tunics. Their snow-apple flesh was untainted by bain de soleil, the hair pulled back from aquiline noses inflating noble brows ". There is even a terrible beauty in his description of the horror of war: " German aerial bombers obsessed over (the) bridge periodically throwing Lilian into a dug-out to watch bits of patients and hospital staff litter the air before dropping in the nearby cemetery ".
The lines of poetry and literary allusions woven all through the text will be for some readers, meetings with old friends, and will perhaps, for others, point the way to new ones.
When describing Marie as being " driven by a keen instinct for…' the pure romance of history '…naturally attuned to the deeds of men and women, which…grounded the passage of Time ", the author is, I believe, describing himself. The Ambulance Driver presents the Victorian illuminati's ideals of a decent, fair and civilized society, and the reality of their times. It also serves to reassure us that " beauty may survive the strip mall and homogenized culture " of our world and its mega-corporations.
Graced with charming watercolour and ink illustrations by the author, this novel will send you packing off to google Dimbola, the ' Freshwater Circle ', Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs, and much more…perhaps the tobacco industry, and Sofie von Otter ! Oh yes, and the ending ? Definitely worthy of Ruth Rendell."