The Sun Times Review - The Factory Voice

Reviewed by: Andrew Armitage

Giller Prize list dominated by female authors

The Giller Prize long list was released last week, a dozen novels of which only three are by men. It came as no surprise to me since I hae long maintained that in this country, women write better then men. Selected by a jury made up of the American novelist, Russell Banks, British writer Victoria Glendinning and Canada's Alistair MacLeod, the nominees are a mix of seasoned writers and newcomers.

A few of their names are well known: Margaret Atwood, Paulette Jiles, Anne Michaels, and Shani Mootoo. The list also includes several debut novelists including Jeanette Lynes and Annabel Lyon. And what makes the Giller even more interesting are the novelists that didn't make it, stalwarts like Lori Lansens, Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore.

When Jeanette Lynes' The Factory Voice (Coteau Books, $21) drifted in for review, it joined a long line-up waiting to be read. I started it early one afternoon while watching the leaves change from the picnic table. And didn't put it down till dusk.

Jeanette Lynes, who teaches at St. Francis Xavier University, is best known for her five volumes of poetry. She has now taken her considerable skills to fiction with a novel set in an airplane factory in Fort William during the years of the Second World War.

Muriel McGregor is an aeronautical engineer whose story is based on the real life experiences of Elizabeth MacGill, the first female to do such work in Canada. Muriel has just taken up her new job, overseeing the construction of 300 Mosquito aircraft. "She is officially a spinster. Thirty-six years old. She has her work, though. Her Master's degree protracted by polio but earned nonetheless."

Muriel's aircraft plant is home to a wide variety of workers, most of them female. There is Audrey Foley, 16, the very model of the word plucky. Running away from an arranged marraige with a farmer she calls Clabber-Face, Audrey reads an ad is a newspaper at the Spruce Grove Public Library that announces, "Girls Wanted to Build Airplanes in Ontario. Apply in person to Miss Ruby Kozak."

Ruby Kozak, in turn, is desperate to get out of Fort William. A beauty pageant winner, Ruby yearns for the life of a journalist while editing the plant newsletter, The Factory Voice. An then there is Florence Voutilainen, an immense trumpet-playing girl who becomes an ace welder. Florence gets down to 170 pounds, eschewing the food she loves, "Butterfingers candy bars, meatloaf slathered in gravy. Muffins, bread pudding laced with caramel sauce."

Over the course of four war years, the novel follows the dreams and changing lives of these four women, making them into unforgettable, even loveable characters. The Factory Voice, a novel about civilians during war, is a slice of life from the 1940s, a period piece that comes complete with the slang, cigarettes, songs and moods of the time. 

This is a tasty novel, about as homespun as they get. And the set piece is a talent show put on by workers at the aircraft factory that will touch your heart - just as this novel must have done to at least two of the three judges to make it to the long list. A breath of fresh air, The Factory Voice seems to have come from nowhere to entertain and engage. 

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