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History Social History

The River

by (author) Helen Humphreys

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2015
Social History, Rivers, General
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Oct 2015
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2015
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A breathtaking mix of observation, prose, natural history, and art

We tend to look at landscape in relation to what it can do for us. Does it move us with its beauty? Can we make a living from it? But what if we examined a landscape on its own terms, freed from our expectations and assumptions?

This is what celebrated writer Helen Humphreys sets out to do in this beautiful, groundbreaking examination of place. For more than a decade Humphreys has owned a small waterside property on a section of the Napanee River in Ontario. In the watchful way of writers, she has studied her little piece of the river through the seasons and the years, cataloguing its ebb and flows, the plants and creatures that live in and round it, the signs of human usage at its banks and on its bottom.

The result is The River, a gorgeous and moving meditation that uses fiction, non-fiction, natural history, archival maps and images, and full-colour original photographs to get at the truth. In doing this, Humphreys has created a work of startling originality that is sure to become a new Canadian classic.


About the author

HELEN HUMPHREYS’ last novel, The Reinvention Of Love, was a national bestseller. Coventry was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and a finalist for the Trillium Book Award. Humphreys won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize for Afterimage and the Toronto Book Award for Leaving Earth. Her much-loved novel The Lost Garden was a Canada Reads selection. The recipient of the Harbourfront Festival Prize for literary excellence, Humphreys lives in Kingston, Ontario.


Helen Humphreys' profile page


  • Winner, IPPY

Editorial Reviews


“Humphreys possesses extraordinary tools and wields them with daring and precision . . . Taken together, Humphreys' powerful, compressed writing and the phenomenal photographs by Tama Baldwin evoke a sense of mystery and timelessness. The River takes breathtaking risks and holds treasures galore. This important work feels completely honest and earned.” — Quill & Quire, starred

“By turns poetic and philosophical (a phenomenology of the river?), a deeply contemplative work best enjoyed over several sittings.” — Globe and Mail

“Its untarnished eloquence smites the reader on a level of intimate innocence so beautiful that at times it leaves the reader breathless . . . Despite her many awards, Helen Humphreys is an under-appreciated writer who runs as quiet as subterranean as water.” — Literary Review of Canada

“To gain the fullest appreciation of Humphreys’s method, read The River after The Evening Chorus, a novel she published in the spring of 2015, and better understand the genesis and genius of both . . . A writer of thorough knowing and no wasted words, Humphreys need not expend energy writing a volume on craft. These books together say more about nonfiction’s role in fiction and fiction’s in creative nonfiction than any how-to manual could. And what links them most subtly are redstarts: they flit through the pages of both.” — The Malahat Review

"Those familiar with the work of Helen Humphreys know that her books are always beautiful and that they often build upon her knowledgeable relationship with nature . . . In The River she furthers her reach and explores the history of the area surrounding the Napanee River as well as the history of the waterway itself . . . The book is richly illustrated . . . But most important to the book is the linkage that holds this all together: the writing." — The Province


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