In The Age of Hope, Giller Prize-winner David Bergen (The Time In Between) brings us the story of Hope Flett. Growing up not-quite-Mennonite in a mostly Mennonite town, poor in a place where the “Blessed…had a monetary value,” Hope is struck by her mother’s advice: “find something you love doing, and find someone whom you enjoy spending time with because you’re going to be with him till you die.” But does Hope heed her words?
It’s 1950. Hope is 20 and drops out of nursing school to marry Roy Koop, who loves her and builds her a beautiful house. Within a decade they have three children — just as she’d planned: “Children should outnumber their parents, don’t you think?” she asks with optimism and innocence on their honeymoon.
But life as a wife and mother brings unexpected isolation and loneliness. When Hope becomes pregnant a fourth time, she is plunged into depression, the unease in herself and her family mirroring the turbulence of the era. She comes to wonder if her youngest, Penny, sees “some dark flaw in her mother that no one else had yet discovered.”
Bergen doesn’t ease up on his character. Decades pass, as Hope’s passions and griefs, disappointments and joys reveal the extraordinary complexity of what is, essentially, an ordinary life. This chronicling is reminiscent of Carol Shields’ depiction of Daisy Plett (rhymes with Flett?) in The Stone Diaries. Superficially, Daisy and Hope’s lives aren’t particularly dramatic, but in reality they are anything but orderly, and don’t live up to the standard tidiness demanded by the mores of the time. They reveal a depth and richness those around Hope and Daisy are oblivious to. For his part, Bergen reveals with the humanity of the tale below the surface, the beauty of a life rendered in Hope.