Where in Canada: A Magical Romance in Toronto—André Alexis's Ring
André Alexis's genre-bending novel Ring (Coach House) is a literary love letter, a magical romance that takes readers on a tour of Toronto—from Rosedale to Parkdale, the Gardiner Ceramics Museum to Nathan Phillips Square, the novel follows Gwenhwyfar and Tancred as they navigate a budding romance.
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Ring, the final novel in Andre Alexis’s Quincunx series, begins in a special Toronto place: a party at the Gardiner Ceramics Museum, directly across from the iconic Royal Ontario Museum. The main characters, who have just met at the party, then take a stroll along Bloor Street West, enjoying the all the sights and sounds that come from a summertime walk in the Toronto’s historic Annex neighbourhood, getting to know each other, and setting the scene for the rest of the novel. Throughout Ring, like many of the books in the Quincunx series (Pastoral, Fifteen Dogs, The Hidden Keys, Days by Moonlight, and Ring), Toronto becomes the main backdrop for this magical romance—characters meet in cafes on Roncesvalles, share apartments on Palmerston Boulevard, and get married at Nathan Phillips Square. Or in Fifteen Dogs, where the dogs, who have been granted human consciousness by the gods Hermes and Apollo, cross the city from east to west, starting on King Street West before exploring High Park and ending up on the other side of the city, in the Beach. Or in The Hidden Keys, where we first meet one of the protagonists from Ring and The Hidden Keys, Tancred, in his beloved Parkdale, before he starts to infiltrate a mansion in Rosedale on his search for a secret fortune.
From their very first meeting, it would seem that Gwen, who moved to the city to attend the University of Toronto, and Tancred, who was born and raised in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood, were made for one another. Like all good romances, Ring will bring them together. But there is, of course, a wrinkle. Gwenhwyfar’s mother, Helen Odhiambo Lloyd, upon intuiting that her daughter is in love, gives her a ring. This ring has been passed down from endless generations of mothers to their daughters. And maybe the ring is magic. It grants the bearer the opportunity to change three things about her beloved. Like all blessings, this may also be a curse.
Ring is a love letter to love, but it is also a love letter to Toronto; its neighbourhoods and its architecture. Though Toronto is his adopted home, Alexis talks about locations like one might casually discuss where they grew up with a childhood friend, with a familiar tenderness that looks past the well-known landmarks and tourist attractions to get at the essence of what makes any city special: the citizens.
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André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His most recent novel, Days by Moonlight, won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Fifteen Dogs won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize, CBC Canada Reads, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Asylum, Pastoral, The Hidden Keys, and The Night Piece: Collected Stories. He is the recipient of a Windham Campbell Prize.
Photo credit Jaime Hogge
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Thanks to James Lindsay at Coach House Books for sharing Ring with us, available here on All Lit Up.
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