The Mystery of Right and Wrong is a masterwork from one of the country’s most critically acclaimed and beloved writers that is both compulsively readable and heartstopping in the vital truth it unfolds. In a novel that grapples with sexual abuse, male violence and madness, Wayne Johnston reveals haunting family secrets he’s kept for more than thirty years.
Wade Jackson, a young man from a Newfoundland outport, wants to be a writer. In the university library in St. John’s, where he goes every day to absorb the great books of the world, he encounters the fascinating, South African-born Rachel van Hout, and soon they are lovers.
Rachel is the youngest of four van Hout daughters. Her father, Hans, lived in Amsterdam during the Second World War, and says he was in the Dutch resistance. When the war ended, he emigrated to South Africa, where he met his wife, Myra, had his daughters and worked as an accounting professor at the University of Cape Town. Something happened, though, that caused him to uproot his family and move them all, unhappily, to Newfoundland.
Wade soon discovers that Rachel and her sisters are each in their own way a wounded soul. The oldest, Gloria, has a string of broken marriages behind her. Carmen is addicted to every drug her Afrikaner dealer husband, Fritz, can lay his hands on. Bethany, the most sardonic of the sisters, is fighting a losing battle with anorexia. And then there is Rachel, who reads The Diary of Anne Frank obsessively, and diarizes her days in a secret language of her own invention, writing to the point of breakdown and beyond—an obsession that has deeper and more disturbing roots than Wade could ever have imagined.
Confronting the central mystery of his character Rachel’s life—and his own—Wayne Johnston has created a tour-de-force that pulls the reader toward a conclusion both inevitable and impossible to foresee. As he writes, “The Mystery of Right and Wrong is a memorialization of the lost, the missing women of the world, and of my world. I see it not as a dark book, but as one that sheds light—a lot of light—on things that, once illuminated, lose their power to distort the truth.”
About the author
Wayne Johnston is the author of several novels. He has won many prestigious awards for his work including the Books in Canada First Novel Award for his debut novel, The Story of Bobby O'Malley, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Most Promising Young Writer, and the Thomas Head Raddall Fiction Award for The Divine Ryans. Both The Colony of Unrequited Dreams and The Navigator of New York spent extended periods of time on bestseller lists in Canada and have also been published in the US, Britain, Germany, Holland, China and Spain. Colony was identified by the Globe and Mail newspaper as one of the 100 most important Canadian books ever produced (including both fiction and non-fiction).
PRAISE FOR THE MYSTERY OF RIGHT AND WRONG
“The Mystery of Right and Wrong is among the most disturbing books I have ever read. With the intensity of a thriller, the intimacy of a diary, Wayne Johnston maps the warped world that people create for themselves, then force others to live within. It twists history and herstory, fiction and fact, into a dark fairy tale, an epic poem, a case study of pathology, a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Johnston shows us how hard it is to escape our family’s reach and how easily our coping mechanisms can become prisons of their own. An absolutely unforgettable novel. As morally and formally challenging as Nabokov. I’m still reeling.” —Ian Williams, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning author of Reproduction
“The Mystery of Right and Wrong is unyieldingly intense, a harrowing portrait of a family mired in madness, dark secrets and the long-term impact of sexual abuse that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.” —Calgary Herald
“I don't expect to read, this year, anything more disturbing, more powerful, more brave, or more amazingly written than this latest from Wayne Johnston. You have to wonder how he kept this one inside him all this time.” —Linwood Barclay
PRAISE FOR WAYNE JOHNSTON
“If St. John’s looms large in the Canadian literary psyche, this is due in no small measure to the novels of Wayne Johnston, a native of Newfoundland’s capital city and one of its most diligent chroniclers.” —Quill & Quire
“[Johnston is] a literary giant who has god-given talent.” —Will Ferguson, The Globe and Mail
“Wayne Johnston spins wonderful stories; he is a gather-you-round-and-I-will-enchant-you raconteur. He has absorbed the world around him—the tall tales, the history, the epic of a place—and adapted it to a narrative style that is clearly his own. His stories charm and beguile. He writes about the ordinary and extraordinary people of Newfoundland with great empathy and without a shred of sentimentality. At the same time his fiction has a mythic quality: Smallwood walking across the island through drifted snow; a father and son surviving a long trek through winter woods by holding onto a horse and one another; an iceberg with the likeness of the Virgin Mary. Wayne Johnston’s fiction is subtle, his passion understated, his humour underpinned by tragedy. All of his work, superbly written, is a powerful combination of insight, talent and revelation. It is made to endure.” —Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award jury citation (David Bergen, Joan Clark and Miriam Toews)
Other titles by Wayne Johnston
First Snow, Last Light
The Son of a Certain Woman
A World Elsewhere
Old Lost Land of Newfoundland, The
Family, Memory, Fiction, and Myth
The Custodian of Paradise
Modern Classics Who Do You Think You Are
Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace
The Navigator of New York
Stories from the Maritimes and Newfoundland