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Tent of Blue

Tent of Blue

Tent of Blue, Rachael Preston's richly conceived first novel, seduces readers with images of captivity and escape. Passing back and forth through time, the novel has its beginnings in England before and during the Second World War. The present is a somewhat seedy mansion-turned-apartment in Vancouver's Shaughnessy neighbourhood and the beaches of Kitsilano and Jericho in the 1950s. The future, or at least the fantasy, is the unattainable Salt Spring Island.

In this astonishing novel, Preston creates characters that are trapped by cruelty, poverty, war, and their own minds and bodies. Gradually they awaken to the fact that they carry within themselves the possibility of freedom and the power to achieve it. The novel's images of war-torn beaches, cold, dank theatres, and travelling by bicycle through the streets of Vancouver will linger with readers long after the book is closed.

The book tells the story of Anton, a boy of almost sixteen, who suffers the challenges of a clubfoot and Yvonne, his mother, a dance teacher who spent her youth in the decayed music halls of 1930s England. Grotesquely mistreated by her drunken mother, fourteen-year-old Yvonne finds fleeting freedom with a Russian-born dancer. After his death, needing to provide for herself and Anton, she falls into the grip of a brutal impresario and eventually migrates to Montreal and shortly thereafter to Vancouver. Yvonne alternately spurns and smothers her son as she plays the only two roles she knows: victim and victimizer. Both have been imprisoned their whole lives: Yvonne by her fear of her abusive mother, of losing her lover, and of Harold, the man who sweeps her into his control and makes her his wife. Anton has been a prisoner of his physical handicap, of Yvonne's unhappiness, and of Harold's hold on both his and his mother's life.

In their Vancouver apartment, Yvonne and Anton struggle to live heroically despite the scathing violence of love. Yvonne opens a dance school where she teaches her few ballet students. Anton struggles for respect and independence and finds a measure of freedom through his wheelchair and apartment bound neighbour, Tom Hart, a World War I vet, who supplies Anton with an old bicycle. Anton tries to return the favour in the only way that he can imagine. Dickensian in its complexity, Tent of Blue marks the career debut of a fascinating new Canadian writer.


Rachael Preston has won the Hamilton and Region Arts Council Literary Award and been shortlisted for the Journey Prize. A native of Yorkshire, England, she studied at Emily Carr College, Vancouver, before moving to Hamilton. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, an ESL teacher, an editor, and a writer of film and video scripts. She now teaches creative writing at Sheridan and Mohawk colleges. Tent of Blue gave readers their first opportunity to immerse themselves in her fictional world.

"Preston's Dickensian touch with pathos and villainy is refreshingly unfashionable ... When [Anton] helplessly climaxes in the cramped darkness of the closet, the cloy of wet heat and primal release are masterfully evoked." — Globe and Mail

"An ambitious debut novel ... [a] rich and vivid evocation of the two main characters and their vastly different milieus ... Preston shifts easily between the narrative strands." — Quill & Quire

"A Dickensian tale with a Canadian twist, told by a talented storyteller." — Joan Clark

"The story of a boy and his mother striving to create themselves as they learn to live heroically, despite the scathing violence of love. A novel that lingers long after the final page." — Shauna Singh Baldwin

308 pages
Pub date: January 1, 2002