The Holding

Publisher: Emblem Editions
New York Times Editor's Choice

Alyson Thomson has left the city for an abandoned farm in the Madawaska hills of Ontario, with Walker, a potter. There, they live a life of artistic and emotional independence, until eventually the isolation brings to the fore tensions and conflicts within the relationship. After a tragedy enters Alyson’s life, she uncovers, in the ruins of a decrepit log cabin, the hidden writings of a young woman who lived on their land more than a hundred years before. As Alyson reads the harrowing tale of Margaret MacBayne, who left behind hardship in a Scottish seacoast town for the Canadian bush in 1859 with the hope of building a new life, she finds Margaret’s story comes to parallel her own in disturbing and unpredictable ways. A brilliant illumination of the lives of two women who occupy the same place a century apart, The Holding reveals the things we keep most guarded, whose truths often lie in unexpected places.

From the Hardcover edition.


I am a woman Alone in all the wide World.

Until today I had three Brothers, William Wallace, Robert Bruce, Harry Douglas, named for good Scots heroes, every one. Margaret the Queen, they called me. Now the Queen has taken her Revenge.

Margaret pauses, regretting the baldness of the last sentence. But...
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1. Margaret MacBayne and Alyson Thomson live on the same piece of land, a hundred and thirty years apart. In what ways is their relationship to the natural world the same? How does it differ?

2. In the course of the novel, Alyson comes to terms with the death of her father and her mother’s complicity in that...

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“Seductive, compelling, The Holding takes us on a haunting journey into the wilds of both the land and the heart. Merilyn Simonds’s crystalline prose is exquisitely crafted – spare, evocative, wise. I was swept away.”
–Sandra Gulland

“A narrative page-turner.… As engrossing as the most intensely crafted psychological drama.… Compelling, hypnotic.”
Globe and Mail

“The novel soars and pulses with life because of the exquisite detail.… A fascinating plot and an extraordinary sense of place.”
Vancouver Sun

“[A novel] with a fresh psychological twist and poetic sensibility.… Breathtaking.…”
Quill & Quire

“Highly accomplished.… Beautifully executed and researched.…”
–Montreal Gazette

“Her characters trace an urgent, almost mythic fate in which a stony farmstead becomes the stuff of their own bodies and dreams. Rarely has this connection been explored so intimately.”
–John Bemrose

“Evocative, haunting, seductive. Simonds writes beautifully, imbuing the landscapes she describes with luxurious detail.…”
Books in Canada

“A mesmerizing novel of parallel lives lived on the edge of wilderness. Simonds’s language masterfully evokes the natural world, and her story is a moving testament to the healing power of that world.”
–Esta Spalding

“An extremely sensuous book, a lush book.…”
–Audrey Thomas, National Post

“Weaving shocking revelations and raw emotions at an assured pace and, at time, with exquisite prose, Simonds tells a haunting tale of life in the wilderness.”
Calgary Herald

“Her precise descriptions of the landscape and its inhabitants … create an authentic physical reality against which the inner lives of the characters are revealed.”
Toronto Star

“A first novel full of poetic imagery and keen observation.… Simonds’s poetic touch is delicate yet sure, her prose well matched to the emotional and physical landscapes she has conjured up from the country’s past.…”
London Free Press

“Eloquent and haunting…”
Toronto Sun

“In Simonds’s gripping tale of two bush women, one contemporary, one pioneer, a wonderful third force is revealed – the euphonic, ubiquitous world of trees, herbs, wildflowers – one with the power to cure, give refuge, and mysteriously map the human psyche. A wondrous book, with no false notes.”
–Claudia Casper

From the Hardcover edition.