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Garbo Laughs

3.14 of 5 stars 3.14  ·  rating details  ·  363 ratings  ·  39 reviews
A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year
A Quill & Quire Top Five Canadian Fiction Book of the Year
A Maclean’s Top Ten Book of the Year


Elizabeth Hay’s runaway national bestseller is a funny, sad-eyed, deliciously entertaining novel about a woman caught in a tug of war between real life and the films of the past. Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child,
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Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 7th 2004 by Emblem Editions (first published September 2nd 2003)
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324th out of 736 books — 616 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 666)
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Melee
I am torn.

Did I actually like this book or not? I'm not even sure.

While reading, I was never bored, though the story didn't really seem to go anywhere. One thing I noticed is that all the heavy things that happened (such as death) happened without notice. All the sudden a character was dead/diagnosed with a disease and I, as the reader, would blink rapidly, mouth agape, and wonder if my inattentiveness was to blame. I don't think it was, though.

I wanted less of the main character, Harriet. I lik
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Sarah
Less lyrical than A Student of Weather but I do love Elizabeth Hay.

After the first blush of infatuation, love becomes something different: quieter and ripe with its own trials and intricacies. I liked the exploration of that. I thought the novel was very effective in conveying a sense of remove that hints at intense undercurrents just beneath the surface. I could see a lot of George and I in the two "romantic leads." So much so, it was a little eerie! Sometimes I'd swear my books are addressing
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Wysteria
Reading this book feels like being invited to tea with two old friends, who you don't really know all that well and who don't take the time to really get to know you, or to let you into their circle. It's like being the outsider in a conversation that never provides you an opportunity to join in. There is no way to become really involved in what is going on because everyone is too busy, too involved in their own lives, their own versions of their lives rather, that I can't really feel bad for th ...more
Marsha
This novel is filled with engaging, thought-provoking characters. Even the children capture the interest not being the cutesy, forgettable moppets they can become in other novels.

But the character or rather plot device that motivates, moves and overwhelms the characters are the movies that some of the central characters talk about to the point of obsession. These are lovers of old movies like “Casablanca”, “Top Hat”, “Christmas in July”, “Horsefeathers”, “Easter Parade”, to name a few. They arg
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Shari
This book grew on me. The characters, especially the main character – Harriet Browning, a 40 something writer who lives her life through movies – a lot of movies is not likeable at all. She has a husband ands a best friend you are supposed to like but the whole book is tainted by weird. Still, there is something to the writing and I liked the reference to one of the character’s favorite pizza joint on Metcalfe Street (in Ottawa) – which was my favorite pizza place too when I lived in Ottawa.

John Whaley
Garbo Laughs written by Elizabeth hay is a unique novel about the life of a fifty something year old women named Harriet Browning. Harriet is the voice of the novel who finds herself on the constant retreat to her world of old movies when she finds life doesn’t live up to her standards. She comes close to being addicted to watching old movies which puts a strain on her marriage and fogs her outlook on life.
What I find original about this novel is that Hay centres the plot on Harriet’s intraper
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Tina Siegel
I was really disappointed in this - I loved Hay's 'Late Nights on Air', so I was really looking forward to Garbo Laughs. Very disappointing. Disjointed, unfocused and the ending was jarringly abrupt. Not recommended at all.
Lisa
I didn't finish it. I picked it up to find more writing like I found In The Student of Weather, but I didn't find it. Started skimming halfway through. Didn't like any character enough to care what happened to them.

I couldn't connect with the movies, SO MANY I didn't know, which surprised me, for I'm 53 and know a lot of movies. Started skimming the movie portions.

I got the same feeling I got after reading six Ian McEwan novels ... I have the feeling there's no nobility in the worldview of this
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Kris
4 STARS

"This is a novel about movie love. Set in Ottawa in the 1990s, it is the quixotic tale of tall, thin Harriet Browning, inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child. Harriet is a woman so saturated with the movies, seen repeatedly and swallowed whole, that she no longer fits into this world. Bent on seeing everything she has missed, she forms a Friday night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy s
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Laura
Dare I say it? The issue with this book is that it is boring. It’s slow and not a whole heck of a lot happens. At least, for a book named “Garbo Laughs,” it is full of movie references, but even those eventually became tiresome.

I don’t know what I really expected coming into the book, but I love old movies, and I have vivid memories of the ice storm, so I was excited. But the ice storm is the big metaphor here … these characters are stuck—static—passive. All they do is talk about movies; yes, a
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Friederike Knabe
You will never quite feel the same watching the old classic movies after you read Garbo Laughs. The constant thread in this story of the daily life of a regular, sort of, family is the Friday night movie club - Harriet Browning, her two children, and neighbour and journalist friend Dinah Bloom. Discussions among the movie buffs focus on characters rather than plotlines: comparing the acting skills of Cary Grant or Marlon Brando or the good looks of Katherine Hepburn or Greta Garbo. The latter ha ...more
Judy Mann
I'm about 1/3 of the way thru this and I have to say that half the time I have no idea what she's talking about.
Is she being witty, or sardonic ? Is she being ironic or is she just being completely incoherant?
I've read books like this in the past and I always feel like the author is glamming it up for the camera.Like you want to scream at her- will you just get your head out of the way-so I can see what's going on? It's like she- Elizabeth Hay is in there trying to razzle dazzle you with her wit
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Shradhanjali  Lama
SUGGESTED ONLY FOR AVID MOVIE WATCHERS

The book is held captive by an overpowering, tyrannical hold by contempt and the dismal sovereignty of pathos. Im a big fan of reading about hopelessness and all things dark but this book seems to have had a very unsettling effect on me. I can neither say i loved it nor can i say i hated it. It did take me an awful long time to finish it though. Its not till you're half way through that you can understand the character. Its the sort of book you cant put do
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Lis
Not really sure what this book was about. Well written of course (as Elizabeth Hay's always are), and it was interesting that a lot of the book took place during the 1998 ice storm in Ottawa. A family and set of neighbours - a lot of movie talk. Not my favorite of her books.
Kristine Morris
Finally finished my second attempt at this book. It was beautifully written - so much poetry, but I really had to force my way through the entire novel. I think it had to with the melancholy tone in general plus the fact that I am not at all interested in movies so I became bored with a fair bit of the dialogue. More specificially though Hay tricked you with her foreshadowing - making you think something a bit more dramatic was about to happen. Of course at the end it does. But she used this tec ...more
Sarah (Barmy for Books)
Not sure I would have liked this as much as I did if I didn't live in Ottawa - I enjoyed imagining the characters around the city where I live. I loved the characters and the old movie discussion. Just wish the ending had t been so abrupt. Overall, I really enjoyed it and will pick up more of Hay's books (which I hope to enjoy even more since most reviews I've read state they are much better than this one).
Stephanie
This book was a huge disappointment to me, b/c I really like Hay's other three novels. I think that a reader would have to be a huge movie fan, especially a fan of classic movies, to truly enjoy this book. The characters were not engaging enough to form an interest and since Hay's novels are usually centred on character development, there just really wasn't much happening in this book.
Anne Barkley
Great read, recommended
Chapters Rideau
Barbara says: "Garbo Laughs is set in Old Ottawa South and really captures the atmosphere of an Ottawa neighbourhood, its people and their relationships over time. It’s also centred around the love of old movies, and incorporates all their charm, wit and heartbreak into the lives of its characters."
Val
I enjoyed this book, set in Ottawa. Follows the lives of a small group of people, using classic films to explain what they are experiencing. Includes the ice storm of the late 90s, fighting various diseases, fidelity, growing up, and lots of movie trivia!
Merle

Had difficulty with Harriet, the protagonist and found her constant retreat into the world of movies annoying. I don't know how her husban endured it! Also the change in voice was often difficult to follow.
Peter
Elizabeth Hay's novelistic tribute to the power of movies in our lives is a near marvelous portrait of a domestic drama, like those we all experience and the uses we make of other stories to tell our own.
Kay
If there were 1/2 stars, I'd give this 3 1/2. Not quite a 4. It was a slow read for me but I grew to like the characters. Interesting the way the main character related everything to movies and actors.
Nancy Dryden
Elizabeth Hay is one of my favorite writers (Late Nights on Air), but I found this book tedious, and the protagonist unsympathetic, so I read about 2/3 of it and then skimmed to the end.
Patricia
I don't know what to think of this book. The writing and the characters were enjoyable but I wasn't sure why. It was almost too pat with its stroyline, I guess. I dunno
Liz
Aug 07, 2012 Liz added it
Not nearly as good as Late Nights on Air. But it's nice to read a book set in Ottawa. This is such a weird family that it's hard to sympathize with any of them.
Eleanor
Some good turns of phrases, but .... I didn't
like it - the end is confusing - so confusing I read
it twice and still am not quite sure what happened.
Sharon
Rather an odd book, I guess you'd say it's a study on life. I've read one other of hers and quite enjoy her writing style. Very pleasant read.
Debbie
Loved this book! Loved this author! The locale being in Ottawa is nice. The boy in it is wonderful. Very real, endearing characters.
Kirsten
Hmmm... didn't like it as much as her other books, and haven't seen enough old movies to catch many of the film references.
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From Elizabeth Hay's web site:
"Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, the daughter of a high school principal and a painter, and one of four children. When she was fifteen, a year in England opened up her world and set her on the path to becoming a writer. She attended the University of Toronto, then moved out west, and in 1974 went north to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. For th
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More about Elizabeth Hay...
Late Nights on Air Alone in the Classroom A Student of Weather Small Change The Only Snow in Havana

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