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Book Cover for: The Mystery of Right and Wrong, Wayne Johnston

The Mystery of Right and Wrong

Wayne Johnston


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."

Book Details

  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publish Date: Sep 21st, 2021
  • Pages: 560
  • Language: English
  • Dimensions: 9.29in - 6.42in - 1.85in - 1.75lb
  • EAN: 9780735281639
  • Categories: LiteraryFamily Life - GeneralThrillers - General

About the Author

WAYNE JOHNSTON was born and raised in Goulds, Newfoundland. Widely acclaimed for his magical weaving of fact and fiction, his masterful plotting, and his gift for both description and character, his #1 nationally bestselling novels include The Divine Ryans, A World Elsewhere, The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. His first book, The Story of Bobby O'Malley, published when he was just 26 years old, won the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Baltimore's Mansion, a memoir about his father and grandfather, won the inaugural Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, published in 1998, was nominated for sixteen national and international awards including the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, and was a Canada Reads finalist defended by Justin Trudeau. A theatrical adaptation of the novel recently toured Canada. Johnston's most recent novel, First Snow, Last Light, was a national bestseller and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin prize.

Praise for this book


"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


"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)