As I finished An Audience of Chairs I couldn’t help but have Third Day’s song “Keep on Shinin’” in my head. This idea of struggle and dashed dreams fits well with Joan Clark’s novel.
You’re bruised and you’re battered, your dreams have been shattered
Your best laid plans scattered all over the place.
Despite all your tendencies, God sees it differently;
Your struggle’s a time to grow.
And you, you’re a miracle, anything but typical.
It’s time for the whole wide world to know.
Moranna struggles in this novel. She struggles a lot. People abandon her, trick her, scare her, and ignore her. Yet despite all that she goes through, she remains consistant and does learn more about herself. Even when she is going through a breakdown, she seems to keep the essence of who she is at her core and learns how to avoid further breakdowns.
At the end of the novel, Moranna “Mad Mory” MacKenzie finally gets to visit with one of her daughters. Earlier in the novel her husband takes away her daughters while she goes through a mental breakdown and she does not see them until her daughters are adults. She longs to see her daughters and feels their absence like a physical pain. Through her struggles with the loss of her daughters, she learns how to live with herself and how to enjoy life. I love the lines that Clark writes on the last page of this novel:
“By the time her daughter and granddaughter reach the veranda, the purple wig, pink bathrobe and red lace blouse have been stuffed beneath the chair and Moranna stands before them in a T-shirt and kilt, her unraveling braid falling partway down her back. She is a woman who has played many parts in her life but is at last content to be none other than herself” (350).
Moranna is not alone in her struggle and growth: she has people who help her along the way. In a conversation with my friend who lent me this book I had no trouble saying that my favourite character in An Audience of Chair is Ian MacKenzie, Moranna’s father. This man supports his daughter: he takes her to the hospital when she has her breakdown because he doesn’t want her to end her life like her mother ended hers, he admits her to the hospital yet makes sure that she is free to leave when she chooses, he leaves her his summer home in the woods on Cape Breton Island, he sets up a trust fund so that all of the taxes and utilizes of the house will be paid, he brings her groceries even when she hides and refuses to speak with him. He does not abandon his daughter and gives her space and time to find herself.
This idea of time and space is given by my second favourite character in the novel: Bun. Moranna finds a man who understand her, gives her space, listens to her, accepts her, and never tries to fix her. They co-exist together without expectations, rules, or judgment.
I think one thing that I appreciated most about Clark’s novel is the prominence and importance of art. Moranna expresses herself and finds healing and purpose through art. Yes, she had her children taken away from her because she lost track of time while illustrating a novel, yet carving her ancestors into wood and selling them allows her to connect with her present and her past in a unique and healing way.
After finishing Clark’s novel I am left with gratitude for the people who support me in my own life and also gratitude for art and how it tells stories in a way that we can connect with.
“Truth is only to be had by laying together many varieties of error” (Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own).
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)