The Torontonians.


358 pages
ISBN 978-0-7735-3324-0
DDC C813'.54




Julie Rekai Rickerd is a Toronto broadcaster and public relations


First published in 1960, the themes of this “novel of manners” remain remarkably contemporary. Lauded by critics and acclaimed internationally, it lays bare the trials and tribulations of a group of wealthy, upper-middle-class couples who populate an upscale residential enclave on the fringes of downtown Toronto in the 1950s.


Despite their different backgrounds, the goals and aspirations of these men and women all seem alike: to earn lots of money and spend it lavishly on themselves, their homes, and on entertaining each other. Karen, the protagonist, is the only member of this group to feel that there is something missing in her life despite its cornucopia of material wealth. It is Karen’s quest to fill this disturbing void that fuels the novel as it examines the mindless but prevalent lifestyle of a specific social group.


Brett Young’s narrative is seamless and sustains an undercurrent of drama and suspense. Her ear for dialogue is acute and her characters, with their complex, intertwining relationships, are precisely drawn and captivating. A bonus for longtime Toronto residents are the landmarks and institutions of the era, some bearing pseudonyms but most recognizable, that the author uses as backgrounds to her tale.


The novel addresses the slings and arrows of conspicuous consumerism through the eyes of an overly educated, rational, and sensitive suburban housewife who cannot find fulfillment in the acquisition of objects and the keeping of an immaculate house and garden. It foreshadows novels like John Updike’s Couples and Betty Friedan’s treatise The Feminine Mystique. A series of flashbacks help Karen come to terms with the consequences of life choices she made, or had made for her. These recollections give her the strength to re-evaluate her life and to move forward in what she feels is the right direction.


Baby boomers will revel in the nostalgia this novel evokes of their formative years. Many will recognize themselves or their parents among the characters. Younger readers will find that, despite the countless changes in the world in the past fifty years, many aspects of human nature and human behaviour remain unchanged.


Young, Phyllis Brett., “The Torontonians.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,