Review: What is Left the Daughter – Howard Norman

I should start by saying this book landed on my desk last week and I was pleasantly surprised because the setting of this novel takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’m from Halifax, so whenever I get to read novels that take place there (“The Birth House“, “Fall on Your Knees“, etc) I get a little tinge of pride and now I can say the same after reading the fictional novel, “What is left the Daughter” by Howard Norman.

 The novel begins in the voice of Wyatt Hillyer, who is writing a letter to Marlais to explain his life story. From this aspect, the story of Wyatt is explained backwards, because we know in the first chapter some of the key questions that you wonder throughout the story. It’s done in a way that isn’t too revealing though, it’s an intriguing foreshadow of what’s to come. Marlais is Wyatt’s daughter and after all the trials and tribulations he’s faced, this letter is long overdue.

 As a young boy Wyatt experiences a lot of tragedy, both his parents commit suicide within a half an hour of each hour, both ending their lives by jumping off two separate bridges. This leaves 17-year-old Wyatt an orphan, devastated and lost. He is sent to live with his aunt, uncle and his adopted cousin Tilda. Tilda fascinates him and it isn’t long before he’s madly in love with her. In order to earn his keep around his aunt and uncles home in Middle Economy, he becomes an apprentice for his uncles toboggan business. The year was 1941 and the sled and toboggan business was booming, but required a skilled and patient hand. Wyatt learned quickly and became a valued member of his new family.

 Things take a sudden turn when Tilda comes home from a professional mourning gig (paid to cry…hmm) and introduces her family to her new beau, German born, Hans Mohring. Hans is a registered student at Dalhousie University and his feelings toward Tilda are equally as strong as Wyatt’s feelings. Everyone in their community is having a hard time accepting their relationship, especially Tilda’s father Donald and Wyatt, because Hans is German and German residents are automatically plagued as trouble due to ongoing events of World War II. Their house is filled with radios to hear about the damage caused by the war and both Wyatt’s Aunt Constance and Uncle Donald cut newspaper clippings constantly to keep in the know. That’s why Hans addition to their family comes as a shock, but Tilda doesn’t care, she loves him and she’s going to do what she wants. 

Things get even worse for Wyatt as the novel progresses and the events you’ll read about will cause you to say “oh my gosh” out loud. It’ll leave you shocked and appalled at times. The fact that we hear it from Wyatt’s point of view throughout the novel is a nice addition, many times, making me feel like it was a letter filled with wisdom and life lessons. I throughly enjoyed the novel not only because Howard Norman’s a talented author, but because he included some of my favorite aspects of Nova Scotia life, Dalhousie, Bedford, Peggy’s Cove, the kind and enjoyable people from the little place I call home. 





3 thoughts on “Review: What is Left the Daughter – Howard Norman

  1. Kathleen says:

    I would be very interested to read this one based on your review. Having never been to Nova Scotia I would welcome the opportunity to read something set there.

  2. bermudaonion says:

    I agree – it’s wonderful to read a book that is set in a place that’s familiar to you. My husband travels to Nova Scotia on business several times a year and he says it’s gorgeous there.

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