Angel Walk by Katherine Govier

Angel Walk

byKatherine Govier

Paperback | April 11, 2000

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At eighty-five, Cory Ditchburn has finally agreed to a retrospective of her art. For years she had refused, afraid that any summing up of her life's work would mean she'd never work again. But now vanity has won out - vanity and the need to see it all one more time.

As she sorts through her photographs with Tyke, the son she abandoned for her lover and for World War II, each image projects Cory into one of the split-seconds that have strung themselves together as her life. Her pictures give her back the story of her past - from her beginnings in Pointe au Baril, Ontario, a place of rocky islands and forests; to her days in London, England, where she honed her skills as a photographer and met the great love of her life; to war-ravaged Europe where she worked as a war correspondent for Lord Beaverbrook, travelling with the ranks of soldiers, earning fame as "the girl photographer"; to her self-imposed exile at a fishing cabin in Safe Harbour.

Together, Cory and Tyke retrace the dramatic and sometimes painful path that has led them to the present. Mother and son reclaim each other, and relive an extraordinary woman's life.

About The Author

Katherine Govier is an acclaimed novelist, short-story writer and journalist, born and raised in Alberta and currently living in Toronto. She is the author of eight novels and three short story collections, and is the editor of two collections of travel essays. She is the winner of the Marian Engel Award (for a woman writer in mid-care...
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Details & Specs

Title:Angel WalkFormat:PaperbackDimensions:576 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 1.25 inPublished:April 11, 2000Publisher:Random House Of CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679310320

ISBN - 13:9780679310327

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Read from the Book

Chapter OneChristopher "Tyke" Ditchburn tiptoed past the piano draped with a Spanish shawl and over the spare handwoven rug, intending to switch on the lamp. Seated in the darkness in a Mission-style chair was his mother. Erect, she was just visible, staring fixedly into the winter garden. Corinne Ditchburn, the photographer. He saw her that way, as a woman with a name, a title even. He always had, even as a boy. At the sight of her, he was suffused with admiration, rage and the half-humorous in-dulgence that had replaced his long-ago hurt.The lampshade, made of tiny gold glass beads, was from the island of Murano in the shallow sea basin off Venice. She had brought it home from the war; he didn't know the story. It hung over the long pine table, which had belonged to her mother, Eliza, and had been fashioned in Parry Sound by her grandfather. The carpenter grandfather, a fearsome bearded Irish Protestant, had also left a tool chest where Cory's papers and letters were jealously guarded against her son's intrusion. On the wall, framed and covered by glass, was a woman's kimono exquisitely patterned with lilies, another war me-mento the meaning of which he did not understand. The house, the garden, her few treasures would be his one day, although until now he'd had little hope she would divulge the private self they sheltered."Tyke?" Her voice was deep and dry. "I know you're there. No use trying to surprise me."He reached the lamp and pulled the chain; a cone of amber light fell over her. Her hair waved back from her forehead thick and white, short as a man's; her long neck was lined and her hands lay motionless in her lap. Her eyes were grey and steady, though her sight was blurred now - old age had done that. Her sharp tongue, however, was unchecked."I wasn't." He'd never succeeded in putting anything past her, though she never stopped suspecting him.Getting her agreement to have the Retrospective go ahead was a minor miracle. For years, she claimed that any summing up of her life's work would mean she'd never work again. "They'll think they've nailed me down." After she stopped saying it would kill her, after she admitted that in fact she wanted an exhibition, she began to cavil about who would do it. She had refused poor Professors Sullivan and Moore, though they had published critical essays about her work for the last decade, and were responsible, in part, for her current high standing. "None of those brown-nosing scoundrels," she said, including all academics and most art dealers, save her own ever-loyal Miss del Zotto.Then a certain Maida Kirk, the Curator of Pho-tography at the Royal Ontario Museum of Art, put in a request and got lucky."She's agreed. I guess your timing is right," Tyke had said bemusedly over the telephone. "She keeps promising to die."Maida Kirk had nipped her victory shout at its root. She was a gentle soul, Tyke knew, pot-bellied and un-pretty, but when she spoke he heard a new propri-etorial tone. "Now that she's agreed, she can't go and die on us." Not on the Royal Ontario Museum of Art. He began to see his mother's point."The catch is..." said Tyke.The catch was that Miss Ditchburn insisted on working with him, her son. "Oh. Well," said Maida Kirk, pondering."Perhaps she thinks I'll be easy to handle," he apologized. As he had proven to be for most of his fifty-five years."I wasn't trying to sneak up," he repeated, treading more noisily on the hardwood and putting out a hand. The old woman, lean and hard and forbidding in every way, even in the line of her arm as she reached for him, seemed to scour him with her unclouded grey eyes. He never knew if she really saw him.So here it is, Cory thought. At the end of her life her son had come to record her confession. And in cahoots with the Flounder. Amazing how that curator Maida whatsit looks like a flounder. Flounder: Now there's a fish for you. A bottom feeder, normal until it's adult and then all of a sudden it turns over and starts swimming on its side along the bottom. It goes flat as paper and one eye even migrates so both can look. She ate one alive in Yokohama. It was impaled on spikes at either end and the sides sliced. So tender with green mustard.She smiled inadvertently. If she could stomach a live flounder, she could stomach anything. Now all she had to stomach was herself, since she'd decided to do this thing. She had refused for a long time. She said no whenever they were interested in her because of Albert Bloom. When all they wanted was pictures of war, she said no, because that was fifty years ago and it wasn't what she did now. But this time she said yes. Vanity wins out in the end. Vanity and the need to —She sought the words. To justify herself. No. Words were not her medium. Not justify. Not explain. See. The need to see it all, one more time.figure 1Photographer unknownCorinne DitchburnParry Sound, Ontario, taken on the North Roadin front of the elementary school,between 1935 and 1938Collection of Christopher Ditchburn, TorontoCorinne Ditchburn as a young woman teaching school is rendered here by a friend? colleague? relative? Only a narrow track, the square schoolhouse and a few clapboard houses form a background. Squinting in the sun, burdened with an armload of primers, she is less than willing to be captured on film. Nor does she appear to be one of those teachers on whose skirts the children hang; she has a cool, assessing eye, and a tilt of her head that indicates she is detained here for only the briefest of moments. She is speaking, her mouth in motion. Given her subsequent career, one might be tempted to interpret her words as cautionary: Is she telling the photographer how to compose the shot? Her hair is cropped and lifted by the wind, her face open and boyish, her expression ready.

From Our Editors

All’s fair in love and war, or at least that’s the attitude Cory Ditchburn copped when she decides to leave her son behind and join her paramour half-way across the world. Soon the Second World War breaks out and Cory accepts an assignment as a photographer and war correspondent for Lord Beaverbrook. The war provides adventure for this woman who has spent most of her youth in the isolated Ontario town of Pointe du Baril and she devours her new reputation as "the girl photographer" with gusto. Several decades later, however, Cory is a successful artist and an elderly woman who must now come to terms with choices she made over the years. Angel Walk earned Katherine Govier a place on the best-seller list.

Editorial Reviews

"Govier has never written so well…Angel Walk is assured, original and completely convincing…Her portrait of Cory Ditchburn is a major contribution to the gallery of strong female characters created by Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood and others." — Maclean's

"This is [Govier's] best book by far…Character, story, insight and language come together in Angel Walk to create an unforgettable portrait." — Montreal Gazette