Reviews & News

A recent review of To the Edge of the Sea,  in CM: Canadian Review of Materials

  "Anne McDonald has an impressionistic, lyrical style, with several sustained metaphors running through the novel. The circus trapeze is one. First and foremost, it shows the tension between home and freedom. It captures Alex's yearning for thrilling experiences and, at the same time, for his brother - "someone to catch him". The breathtaking back-and-forth of the trapeze also relates to the feelings between Mercy and John A"

You can find the full review here 



To the Edge of the Sea  wins the First Book Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards April 2012!

"In the mid-19th century, three young Prince Edward Islanders explore their disparate futures at home and away, in a debut novel that is lyrical and precise in its descriptions of land, sea and people, and powerful in its accounts of both personal and political histories of the province and country."
Sask Book Award judges Joan Barfoot, Christine Cowley and Katherine Gordon

To the Edge of the Sea has just been shortlisted for a Saskatchewan Book Award - the gala is April 28, 2012 in Regina Sask. Find the shortlist and events all here!

To the Edge of the Sea was posted as New and Notable for Canada in Belletrista which celebrates literature written by or about women writers from around the world. 

Canadian Bookworm Book Review

A lovely review of To the Edge of the Sea by librarian Shonna

see her Review and Blog here

To The Edge of the Sea

Finished March 16
To the Edge of the Sea by Anne McDonald
This short novel is lyrical and flows between four characters. Set in the summer and fall of 1864, this book begins in PEI and takes us across the Canadas to Niagara Falls. Two young men in PEI, brothers, Alex and Reggie are very different. Reggie, the oldest, is seasick every time he goes out on his father's fishing boat, yet he is the responsible one, the one who asks before he acts. Alex is impulsive and a natural fisherman. When a circus comes to the island, Alex leaves in the night to go to town to see it. He is drawn to the actions of the highwire performers and follows them beyond his island home. Reggie is changed by Alex's disappearance and makes choices in his own life that change his life forever.

At the same time, the leaders of Upper and Lower Canada come to PEI to try to get agreement to form a nation. This is the start of a road trip from the island across the Canadas and we see things from the eyes of John A Macdonald himself and the eyes of Mercy, daughter of PEI delegate George Coles, a young woman both drawn and repelled by John A.
This is a journey, and a discovery and a leaving.
Mercy leaves behind her younger, more innocent self. John A leaves behind part of himself as a cost to forming a new country. Alex leaves behind his island home and family. Reggie leaves a life he was born into, but not without cost. From Canadian history to the famous Farinis, this novel explores change and a sense of inevitability. Very enjoyable.

By Heather Allen - Penticton Western News
June 30, 2011 4:00 PM
June 30, 2011 4:36 PM

In September 1864, John A. Macdonald’s ship pulled into Charlottetown’s harbour. Its hold was full of champagne, ready for a great celebration. After all, Macdonald had just reached a deal that would lay the path for the confederation of Canada.

The townsfolk were in the street partying, bedecked with picnic baskets and parasols. But they weren’t interested in the upcoming conference. Only one man rowed out to greet the political guests and even he was longing to be back on shore.

It seemed the Islanders wanted to celebrate an arrival of a different sort: the circus. And who could blame them? It had been ages since a circus came north to their shores. In the 1800s, East Coast circuses travelled by ship and it was only because of the American Civil War that this one made its way north and toured Canada.

Does it seem farfetched that more people would be interested in the circus than the formation of a country? The story is, in fact, true.

In her just-released book, To the Edge of the Sea, author Anne McDonald follows John A’s campaign to champion confederation. McDonald first learned of the circus incident on a Canadian Heritage TV commercial. Intrigued, she spent nine years extensively researching the events.

In the book, though, McDonald doesn’t just focus on the campaign. She frames the story with the
blossoming romance between John A. and a young PEI woman named Mercy Coles. McDonald also inserts two fictional brothers into the story.

The first brother, Reggie, protests alongside his farming relatives, who are fed up with paying rent to the few landlords who owned most of P.E.I. The other brother, Alex, runs away with the circus. He eventually finds himself in Niagara Falls, coming face to face with the legendary tight rope walker, Farini. As it turns out, John A. and Mercy Coles also happen to make a stop in Niagara Falls.

It’s obvious that McDonald loves intriguing, obscure and humorous historical details. She includes many discovered while poring over history books, old newspapers and even a copy of Mercy Coles’ diary tucked away in the P.E.I. archives.

To the Edge of the Sea has a dream-like quality and is playfully poetic. McDonald follows a historical narrative, but is just as interested in language, symbols and metaphors. If you enjoy the writings of authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Sheila Watson, then this is an interpretation of Canadian history that you won’t want to miss. Happy Canada Day!
Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton.

To the Edge of the Sea a blend of fiction, Canadiana
 Regina writer's debut uses fiction, real life
 By Bill Robertson, For The StarPhoenix September 3, 2011

By Anne McDonald,
Thistledown Press, $19.95

Regina writer Anne McDonald leans on memories of her childhood summers on Prince Edward Island in her first novel, To the Edge of the Sea. In it, she makes fiction of the actual lives of people both close to, and not at all associated with, the negotiations in Charlottetown, Quebec City and Kingston to forge a confederation of what would become the provinces of Canada.

McDonald follows the lives of two brothers, Reggie and Alex, and Mercy Coles, all young adults, from mid-June 1864 to early November of the same year, as John A. Macdonald, George Brown and others from Upper and Lower Canada come first to Charlottetown to try to entice the colony into confederation.

The high-born Mercy, from a politically powerful island family, is intelligent, pretty and 26 and eager to do something with her life. That she's 26 and not married in 1864 bespeaks her restlessness. She also has, what the psychobabble of today would call father issues. She's not always sure that the man with whom she had such a happy childhood now has a sure grasp on his life and sanity.

Maybe that's why, of all the powerful men flowing lavishly around her, between meetings, and at receptions and balls, Mercy finds herself increasingly attracted to the widowed and much older John A., affectionately called by his sisters "the ugliest man in Canada."

And Macdonald, negotiating furiously and drinking hard to keep up, finds himself strangely drawn to this attractive daughter of one of his colleagues.

Meanwhile, another kind of political wrangling is taking place under these people's feet. In terms of family politics, brothers Reggie and Alex, sons of a fisherman, are fiercely at odds with their father's plans.

Alex, the second son and the one who loves the sea, walks away from home to join the circus. Yes, it's a cliché, but someone has to do it. He's utterly entranced by tightrope walking, so much so that he leaves his family without a thought, follows the circus all over Quebec, and ends up at Niagara Falls, watching the great Farini prepare for his next amazing stunt. Alex wants it all.

On the other hand, Reggie, the eldest son, loathes life on the sea, is made physically ill by it, and wants to be a farmer. He defies his father, already bereft of a son, and joins his farmer uncles as they gather to march in defiance of their landlords who bleed off their profits. Here are politics at a local and even violent level.

McDonald is wise enough not to think she'll give us any new historical insights on the Charlottetown talks of 1864 or the complicated man who became our first prime minister. Her strength lies in imagining three young people with vastly different ambitions at a crucial time in Canada's history. And that history is nearly incidental to all their desires. What excites McDonald, and what she conveys, is the sensual excitement these people feel when they touch something they love.

She may be falling in love, but it's the rain falling on Mercy's bare head one night as she marches with the people that thrills her. Reggie loves the feel of the red Prince Edward Island earth and Alex loves the feel of air, how he can train himself to move through it, even lean against it. Whatever their politics - national, local or family - these are elemental people and McDonald has found what they're made of and what they need to hold to.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

Some of CBC Readers Choice Giller Comments

I love history and To the Edge of the Sea has inspired me to want to read Mercy Cole's diaries. The book kept me turning the page to the very end. The characters were interesting and amazing with a twist at the end I had not expected. Sir John A. Macdonald (who has on his tombstone in London, England "A British subject I was born and a British subject I will die" was made more real to me. A strange Epitaph for the Father of Confederation I always thought. Great book great cover great bookmark. Loved it all.

Anne McDonald's To the Edge of the Sea is the best book I've read in ages. A thoroughly Canadian novel, it tells the story of Confederation, with John A. Macdonald as one of its central characters. While some of the characters are historical figures, others are fictional. The latter include two brothers, Reggie and Alex, sons of a fisherman, both of whom want more out of life than following in their father's footsteps. Their stories are interwoven with those of John A. Macdonald and Mercy Coles, another historical figure who, in the novel, wants to escape the strictures of Charlottetown high society. The result is a narrative that celebrates thinking differently or unconventionally-the kind of creative thinking that led to Confederation. The four stories are linked not only by coincidence of time and place, but also figuratively, with, for example, Alex's stint as a tightrope artist serving as a metaphor for the balancing act performed by John A. Macdonald during the Confederation negotiations. In his personal life, however, the hard-drinking John A. is not so sure-footed. Beautifully written, To the Edge of the Sea should certainly make it to this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist-and further. 

Anne weaves such an imaginative, descriptive spell in this wonderful story bringing life to Canadian history. It is so suspenseful that I found myself eager to hurry to each subsequent page to see what would happen next. This book is brilliantly written, and ranks with some of Canada's esteemed authors. It has such a poetic quality to it while being a superb narrative. A beautiful piece of writing! 

In To the Edge of the Sea Anne McDonald has written a gripping story fashioned around our story of confederation. Meticulously researched it gives insight into how we came to be the country that we are as we ride the waves with her characters. With her unique writing style she teaches us our own history that we surprisingly know so little about. It not only deserves the richest Canadian literary prize, it needs to be read by every Canadian student in our schools.