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The Holding: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Merilyn Simonds
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

An intoxicating debut novel that twines the lives of two women on the same land, a century apart.

Alyson Thomson has left the city for a simpler life on an abandoned farm with her lover, Walker, a potter. Wandering there, she uncovers, in the ruins of a log cabin, the writings of a young woman who lived more than a hundred years before. Into Alyson's story Merilyn Simonds weaves the moving tale of Margaret MacBayne, who, with her family, left behind hardship in a seaside Scottish town in the hope of building a new home in the Canadian wilderness. Margaret, an expert on herbs, contemplates revenge when her brothers rob her of her happiness. When Alyson too suffers great loss, she must decide if retribution is worth the price. Taut and uplifting, sensuous and astute, The Holding is psychologically complex and beautifully rendered. Simonds brings us an intimate journey of discovery into the things we keep most guarded, whose truths often lie in unexpected places.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Canadian Simonds evokes the harsh conditions facing settlers in the Canadian wilderness by focusing in her debut on two women who live a century apart on the same parcel of land. In 1859, Margaret MacBayne emigrates from Scotland with her parents and three older brothers to stake a claim in uncharted territory. But hard luck follows them: the father is detained by illness upon arrival in Canada and the mother dies in childbirth soon after. The three brothers work hard, but when they are conscripted during the winter for logging jobs, young Margaret is left on her own. She thrives in her isolation, learning to fell trees and acquainting herself with the abundant plant life on the property. In a parallel narrative, set in the early 1990s, Alyson Thomson cultivates her garden and lives with her lover, Walker, a potter with a secret past. When Walker goes to work in a logging camp—leaving behind a pregnant Alyson—she, like Margaret, learns proficiency in her solitude. She also discovers cryptic writings detailing Margaret's cultivation of plants as curatives and hinting that she may have murdered her brothers. While the book has tantalizing dramatic moments, the wilderness itself is the star. The pull of isolation beautifully showcases both the tragedies and triumphs of living off the land. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The lives of two women, born in different centuries and on separate continents, collide with ominous results in Simonds' incandescent debut novel, a haunting story of revenge and regret. Fleeing the abject poverty of her native Scotland, Margaret MacBayne and her three brothers emigrate to Canada only to face an even bleaker existence farming a cold and unforgiving parcel of land deep in the wilderness. When her fiance is killed on the eve of their wedding, Margaret holds her high-spirited brothers responsible. An accomplished herbalist, Margaret methodically plots her retaliation, recording the details in a secret diary. One hundred years later, the diary is discovered by Alyson Thomson, who, along with her lover, Walker, is now living on the abandoned MacBayne farm. When a similar tragedy befalls Alyson, she discovers the blueprint for her own retribution in Margaret's writings. Lyrical in its depiction of the merciless Canadian landscape, Simonds' deeply emotive psychological drama is a spellbinding, ethereal portrait of women pushed beyond their breaking points. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 392 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (June 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0053GMM5C
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,594,605 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that does not disappoint... March 22, 2005
This book was just what I was looking for. As a woman, it is sometimes hard to find books about the 'realness' of women. This book is fabulous. Following the lives of two women who lived almost 150 years apart in time, it blends the right amount of history and human emotion. You relate to the characters: you admire their strengths , and you sympathize with their struggles. They are strong and independent, yet vulnerable and endearing. An excellent read. This is a book that I will keep and re-read --- just so I can go back and re-visit the characters. I very much look forward to Merilyn Simonds next book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking, poignant novel October 5, 2005
In Merilyn Simonds's debut novel, THE HOLDING, two women living on the same piece of land decades apart are faced with emotional and physical isolation, and find strength in self-reliance.

In the 1800s young Margaret MacBayne, along with her family, leaves her Scottish fishing village in hopes of taming the wilderness of Canada and finding prosperity and happiness. Margaret and her three brothers lose their father directly upon landing in the New World, and their mother dies in childbirth soon after. When her brothers depart for logging camps each winter, leaving Margaret alone in the Canadian bush, she must find the physical and emotional strength to survive. She does survive, flourishing with the help of a Native woman who befriends her, protects her and teaches her traditional herbalism. When her brothers bring home a man to help on the homestead, Margaret falls unexpectedly in love. Soon her happiness is destroyed by a tragic accident, and the MacBayne family is splintered forever.

In the late 1990s Alyson Thompson, pregnant and alone while her moody and mysterious partner Walker is working at a logging camp, also deals with tragedy and loss. While exploring her land, the former MacBayne holding, she finds the remains of Margaret's garden and cabin, and within it, Margaret's journal. Alyson, a creative gardener, connects with Margaret's loss and the work she loved. Unbeknownst to Walker and her best friend, Alyson begins to revive Margaret's long-dormant garden and finds it a healing enterprise. Still, she must confront difficult truths about Walker and their future together.

Simonds artfully moves back and forth between the two perspectives of Margaret and Alyson, and intertwines them well.
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More About the Author

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1949, Merilyn Simonds spent her childhood in Brazil and was educated at the University of Western Ontario. As an award-winning freelance journalist, she published nine nonfiction books and scores of magazine articles on subjects ranging from the environment to soap-making, from art and architecture to war. From 1987 -1991 she was an associate editor at Harrowsmith Magazine and has been a contributing editor at Harrowsmith, Equinox, Canadian Geographic and Saturday Night Magazines.

With the release of The Convict Lover, published by Macfarlane, Walter & Ross in 1996, Simonds became nationally known as a literary writer, exploring the zone where fact and fiction meet. The Convict Lover was nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction and was chosen as one of the top ten nonfiction books of 1996 by the Globe and Mail, Quill & Quire Magazine, Elm Street Magazine and Maclean's. It was translated into Chinese, Japanese, and German, and in 1997, was adapted for the stage by the Kingston Summer Theatre Festival, premiering at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto in the fall of 1998. It is now considered a classic in Canadian creative nonfiction.

The Lion in the Room Next Door, Simonds's collection of linked, autobiographical stories, was published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart in 1999 to enthusiastic reviews and like The Convict Lover, became a national bestseller. The following year, it was published by Bloomsbury in England, by G.P. Putnam's Sons in the United States and by btb in Germany.

The Holding, published as McClelland & Stewart's lead fiction title in the spring of 2004, is Simonds's first novel. On the Canadian Booksellers' Association bestseller list for five months, it received unanimously favourable reviews. In the fall of 2005 it was published in the United States, where it was reviewed enthusiastically in the New York Times and later selected as an "Editor's Choice." The novel was published in Germany in 2007.

In 2005, her short story "Miss You Already" was published in Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada, where it was nominated for a National Magazine Award. Her short fiction has been anthologized internationally and was recently included in a special issue of Journal of the Americas on Canadian literature and art. She has edited two anthologies: A Literary Companion to Gardens (2008) and A Literary Companion to the Night (2009). In the fall of 2006, she was writer-in-residence at Green College, University of British Columbia, where she taught online courses for Booming Ground, the noncredit division of UBC's Creative Writing Programme. She also teaches creative writing at Kwantlen University and privately mentors writers working on both fiction and creative nonfiction projects. In 2009 she was writer in residence in Banff Alberta.

She is currently working on a collection of short fiction titled The Paradise Project as well as a novel, C and a travel memoir she is co-writing with Wayne Grady, Breakfast at the Exit Café: Travels in America. On the first day of spring 2009, she launched her website,, wher she posts a weekly literary essay drawn from her garden at The Leaf.

Merilyn Simonds lives with writer and translator Wayne Grady on a small acreage north of Kingston, Ontario.


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