Within These Walls

Hidden stories from the prairies

When is a house not just a house? As a literary device, the house is often employed as an engine to drive a narrative or to generate a larger story outside its walls. Novels such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, as well as memoirs like Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything and Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own, use houses to carry personal stories and recollections. Candace Savage, however, has a more ambitious aim. In Strangers in the House, where she writes about the place in Saskatoon that she has called home for thirty years, she admits the personal only for its warming glow.

Savage’s primary interest is not in her own story or even the structure she inhabits, but in Napoléon Sureau dit Blondin, the man who built it in 1928. She uses her house as a key to open doors that lead to eventual contact with his...