Wednesday 2 September 2020

The Afterlife of George Cartwright

Finished August 30
The Afterlife of George Cartwright by John Steffer

George Cartwright was a real historical figure from the 18th century. He was born in England, and spent time in India and Labrador. He ran a trading post in Labrador and developed a relationship with some of the Inuit there.
This book takes the information from Cartwright's real life and adds to it, more fully developing the character. This book was on several award shortlists when it came out and won a first novel award. The premise for the book is George Cartwright caught in a kind of limbo after his death, where he wakes up in a room in the inn he died in, and has his hunting bird there, with his horse in the stables below, and goes about activities.
These activities are mostly roaming the countryside and using his bird to hunt, but he gets occasional glimpses into the real world as it develops over the many years he is stuck in this situation, and has entered that world invisibly on occasion. But for the book, his story is in the past. He makes diary entries reflecting on his life and what he did, all of which start the same:
1819. May. Wednesday 19. Wind S.W. light. 
We also get entries from his real life diaries and the book makes connections and enlarges upon what is there so we get a better picture of the world he lived in, the people he interacted with, and how he treated them. Despite his reliance on the Inuit, and the things that he learned from them, he still regards them as lesser than himself, and that is obvious in a few different situations in the book. His companion, Mrs. Selby seems more enlightened in that regard, but still takes the advantages that the situation offers. In some cases he treats the natives with regard, but when it comes right down to it, he doesn't respect them in the same way he does his contacts in England. His relationship with Mrs. Selby is a different one, part business and part personal, and she definitely wants more than he is willing to give. He is a lonely man, but that loneliness is due to his choices as much as anything. This is a man looking at his life and regretting certain things and seeing things in a new light, but still a man of his times.
An enlightening read.

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