It’s best to read Lost in September as if in a dream and not to ask too many questions from the outset.
It’s beautifully surreal. Delicate, tiptoeing, wrapped in mystery. It’s strange to describe writing as delicate—I’m not sure how else to describe Kathleen Winter’s writing, her careful reveals, her fanciful world. I wondered also wondered how she was going to write herself out of the predicament of suspension of belief she’s created. She does, of course. I never should have doubted.
It’s also strange to consider that modern day Montreal can be described as fanciful and alien. It is, the way Winter writes it, and the way protagonist James Wolfe experiences it. James Wolfe is a British general who lost his life on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. In the late 1750s. He’d a ghost? Not a ghost? A spirit? But other people can see him? It sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, and if you can get over an obsession with logic, you can melt into the story. Hence the reading as if in a dream.
Anyway. Wolfe returns to present day Montreal to attempt to get back the 11 days leave he was owed in 1752 but never got because Britain switched to the Gregorian calendar and his days off vanished the change. He never gets to visit Paris and seven years later he dies as a general in battle against the French. This, really, almost feels incidental to the story. They are the cause of his wanderings, not the meat of it.
Montreal, people, and even potatoes are not what Wolfe remembers. Potatoes, definitely, are not as good. He struggles to adjust. He is no longer a glorious, respected general in a red coat. He shares a tent in a park with an older woman who wants to help him get his military pension and wants him to adjust to his life, and he revisits his past shortcomings and his complicated relationship with his mother. Wolfe wanders and muses. He writes letters. It’s a little pondering. I think history buffs might love it. Lost in September is filled with obscure references to Mozart, battles on Canadian land, and Thomas Grey.
Kathleen Winter was at Events 56 (Out of Character) and 72 (The Interviews) of the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.