Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Mister Sandman” as Want to Read:
Mister Sandman
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Mister Sandman

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  773 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
Barbara Gowdy’s outrageous, hilarious, disturbing, and compassionate novel is about the Canary family, their immoderate passions and eccentricities, and their secret lives and histories. The deepest secret of all is harbored in the silence of the youngest daughter, Joan, who doesn’t grow, who doesn’t speak, but who can play the piano like Mozart though she’s never had a le ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 3rd 2008 by Steerforth (first published January 1st 1995)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Mister Sandman, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Mister Sandman

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jun 08, 2010 Holly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of a family set in 50s-70s Canada; this unconventional family - closet homosexual Gordon; wild, lying Doris; brilliant, promiscuous Marcy; slow, overweight, happy Sonja; and genius, brain-damaged, beautiful, talented Joan - struggles with love, openness and honesty until Joan opens their eyes.

Recommended by Margaret Atwood and by, this story had me expecting to be as spellbound as I was when reading Geek Love. However, despite the book's interesting perspective and plot line,
Aug 13, 2009 Corey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A novel that rolls around in its own eccentricity like a happy dog in high grass. Gowdy loves her oddball characters and the reader cannot help but love them, too.
Aug 02, 2007 lana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a quick and easy read. Not particularly original or demanding, but it's an amusing way to spend an afternoon. The characters are interesting and the end of the book is definitely its strongest part. I heard it compared to Geek Love, and though the daughter is a 'freak,' she is not so in the Geek Love sense. In a sense, her 'normal' family members are much stranger than she.
Jan 13, 2010 Kailin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favourite novels. a dysfunctional family that decides that it really isn't dysfunctional at all! beautiful characters, sometimes i think that i might have known them, at some point, sometime.
Apr 09, 2013 Linda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Second book I've read by this author. First was great. This one was tedious and "precious". Seemed like the author was trying too hard. Finished it though, but only by slogging through. Started off good, but felt forced very quickly.
Robert Beveridge
Barbara Gowdy, Mister Sandman (HBJ, 1996)

Mister Sandman was a Publishers' Weekly Best Book of 1996, and it's easy to see why. Gowdy's third novel (and fourth book) is an engaging look into a world the is both completely warped and so close to the surface of reality that sometimes it's hard to remember that what's on the page is fiction.

Mister Sandman is the story of the Canary family, who are your basic everyday family. At least, they would be if life were a David Lynch film. Gordon, the patriar
Apr 07, 2009 KW rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
The story is complex, so we'll start with the family: a mother, a father and their two girls, one of whom is fifteen and recently lost her virginity (albeit somewhat unwittingly; she turns to the man directly thereafter and gasps, "Did we go all the way?"). Oldest daughter becomes pregnant. Mother and daughter travel to the nursing home where an elderly aunt is staying, and the daughter gives birth in a basement room where not a year earlier, an elderly woman named Alice killed herself, etching ...more
Nov 01, 2014 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alas. I thought Mister Sandman was just okay. In short: It’s a book about the disparity between ‘true’ selves and what we reveal to those we love. The secrets we keep from our partners and children; the secrets we keep from ourselves. The reverberations of these secrets are detected by the changeling child of the family, Joan, who, because she is ‘brain damaged’ and assumed to be mute, absorbs (and records) the secrets she hears, only to echo them back in (magical) and transformative ways. No qu ...more
Jessica Malice
I like the concept. There were parts of the book I enjoyed. If it had been by an author unfamiliar to me I suspect I would have rated it higher. Having dearly loved some of Barbara Gowdy's other works, though, I'm a bit disappointed.

Passages I marked:
It was something else, the look in her eyes. Bloodshot, boiling, as if she were letting Doris see right into her arteries.

He himself doesn't play an instrument, but if he did it would be the piano for how it is capable of simultaneously reproducing

You could point to anything and call it the truth.
"The truth is only a version" was one of his maxims, which S heard as
"the truth is only aversion" p2

In this version of the dysfunctional family, the truth is particularly elastic,genuine feeling comes as a surprise or something to be awkwardly pieced together.
Its these kind of communication mistake that take lives in unintended directions.

What I found so wonderful in this zany and heartfelt saga is the depth of affection and the almost total a
Oct 18, 2015 Rosie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Someone me this book. Many details about sex - heterosexual, homosexual, lesbians, gay, masturbation. One night stands.

About a child conceived in a 2 minute rape. Almost albino. never speaks, but can imitate noises and can play anything on the piano (servant?)

Her grandmother, Doris, adopts her to save the daughter's reputation. Doris meets a nurse (at the nursing home where they stay and have the baby) and realizes she likes women.

Her daughter, Sonja, gets a job putting hairpins on the cardboard
Dec 11, 2011 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read Gowdy's 'Helpless' awhile back, I was quite excited to give 'Mister Sandman' a whirl. I am of mixed feelings of this story.

I absolutely love Gowdy's writing style. This woman knows how to make you turn a page. At under 300 pages she tells a wholly complete story; I love a concise writer. I also found most of the characters very rooted in reality. The passages devoted to the juxtaposing sister, the seemingly asexual Sonja and the promiscuous Marcia, I found particularly appetizing.

Jan 17, 2013 Debbie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Publisher synopsis: “The Canary family are unlike any other. Joan is exquisite, tiny, mute, plays the piano like Mozart and lives in a closet. Marcy is a nymphomaniac, while Sonja earns a fortune clipping hair-grips to cardboard and knits compulsively. Their parents keep their own habits secret for as long as they can.”

The secrets of the parents are that Gordon is homosexual and Doris likes to sleep with other women. The story reaches its climax when Joan reveals them to each other.
The story of a queer little family - encompassing both meanings of that word - and the secrets they've built their lives around. The style of this book really grew on me -- kind of rambly, lots of tangents and seemingly unimportant information sprinkled everywhere. Messy. But the mess starts to cohere, and flow, and take what you were expecting into another direction entirely (over and over again). I liked that, a lot. There's a feeling of inevitability to the ending, which is strange because it ...more
(Review Notes written 1998) What a wild, weird, fascinating book! The Canary family is like no other; homosexual parents who have successfully hidden their homosexuality from each other, daughters Marcy and Sonya and Joan, daughter of Sonya who has been brought up as the third sister. was dropped on her head at birth and is brain-damaged but she talks (not talks, but communicates) only to sister Marcy and with sounds, not words. She imitates all the sounds around her, and she is also able to pla ...more
Aug 03, 2014 Nutty rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Throughout the whole book I kept wondering if it was going to be one of those weird esoteric books you don't quite understand. It wasn't. Joan turned out to be a mirror, nothing more, nothing less. This was very interestingly constructed up to the end. But although the idea behind it was very nice, the story as a whole is too implausible for me to support it. It went too far. Too, too far.
I liked the part where the author allowed a glimpse into Joanie's inner workings and I loved the ending, whi
Dec 17, 2014 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an odd, special little book. A bit like Joan, I suppose.

Set in the 50s and 60s, this quirky story follows a family of 4.5, focusing on each person in turn. Time is nonlinear. Sex and love are very much on the forefront of everyone's minds. Gowdy writes sex and relationships so honestly. They're mundane, anxiety- and guilt-ridden, arousing, dysfunctional, and never alike.

I'm still trying to understand the fantastical creature that is Joan, and why such a character was included. I liked her,
Sep 07, 2009 Doreen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The good: very readable, with lovely language and a fast pace. Ms Gowdy also treats her characters with a benevolence that I felt was deserved, as she successfully portrays them as a family trying to muddle through life while doing the least harm.

The bad: the ending. I don't remember whether I had similar reservations about The White Bone, but the ending was strange. It wasn't exactly abrupt or awkward, just a little less kind than I thought the rest of the novel was. Maybe that's just me, but t
Aug 02, 2014 Melani rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
I hate giving Barbara Gowdy one star, but this book didn't come together for me. I'm quitting on page 52. I would probably force myself to finish were it not for the fact that I have exhausted the number of renewals the library allows. And, that reveals a lot - I had a total of 48 hours on planes and in airports during the time I had it, desperately wanted an escape, and still couldn't stick with the story. The eccentricities of the characters and the cuteness of details seemed just a little too ...more
Mar 22, 2009 Louise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
When I began to read this book I thought "no, I'm not gonna like this one". Lo and behold, several pages into it I was captured.

This is kind of an odd, quirky story which centers around a family of 5 people growing up in Toronto in the 1950's. The relationship between Gordon, Doris, Sonja, Marcy and Joan is dysfunctionally odd at best. Each of them has "secrets" from each other BUT along comes wee Joan and all those precious secrets that they each tried to protect are revealed in a way that is
Oct 04, 2011 Tanya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 03, 2009 Guy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: multiple-reads
One of the best opening paragraphs to a novel in the English language! And a fun, engaging read.

Here's how the book starts:

Joan Canary was the Reincarnation Baby. Big news at the time, at least in the Vancouver papers. This is going back, 1956. Joan was that newborn who supposedly screamed, "Oh, no, not again!" at a pitch so shrill that one of the old women attending the birth clawed out her hearing aid. The other old woman fainted. She was the one who grabbed the umbilical cord and pulled Joan
This book is a marvelously written tale about a family so dysfunctional that their actual functioning comes across as completely normal (think Geek Love). It's difficult to put into words, because Gowdy does a fine job by herself. Her characters are robust, a little pathetic , delusional at times, and very much alive. The plot is unbelievably scandalous, yet, at the center of it all, is the Canary family - very strange yet completely devoted to one another. The youngest, Joan, is unforgettable. ...more
Jan 24, 2013 Lyndsie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is such a hidden gem! One of the professors in my MFA program recommended this to me and it's now one of my favorite books. This book is up there with Katherine Dunn's Geek Love and Angela Carter's Magic Toyshop. Gowdy is able to write about a family of characters that are deeply complex. There are unusual and beautiful scenes of a family playing in the yard at night because the youngest child is so sensitive to the sun, and Gowdy is able to balance and delve deep into each character' ...more
Nov 12, 2010 Binchic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book that was on the synapsis for my Modern Lit class in University. I never did find the time to read it while I was in school, but a couple of years later I decided to give it a go.

While this book is not a genre that I would generally gravitate towards, there was something stark and compelling about this novel. The characters somehow manage to be relatable and outlandish all at the same time.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, so all I will say is, think outside of the box and p
Melissa Somerton
Aug 08, 2007 Melissa Somerton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like everything by Barbara Gowdy. Her characters are always convincing and always completely unique. Somehow, she can ignore the rule of "write what you know" and still have her odd storylines and people ring true. I mean, unless she knows what it's like to be an autistic, albino child how lives in a closet and can recreate any sound she hears...It's not super complex reading but very satisfying. Great for rainy sunday reading where you have the whole day to get through a really cool story wit ...more
Becky Mears
Mar 13, 2015 Becky Mears rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a great and unexpected delight I found this book I just picked up in a local charity shop. The main character was obviously autistic but not described as such. She was viewed by her family in the 60's as "brain-damaged" "reincarnated" and just generally as mysterious, eccentric and very much loved.
Was a very quirky novel but had some great things to say about repressing ones real natures. Give it a go!
Aug 10, 2012 Yvonne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What if you have dark and very private secrets, and it would be appalling, life-shattering if your family learned your secrets? What if you have a family member who is so totally lovable and special that she is adored by each and every member of the family? And what if she hears and absorbs everything -- and innocently tells everyone's deepest secrets to everyone? Will the family crash? Will everyone hate the blabbermouth?
Dec 03, 2016 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Strange and lovely.
Jun 26, 2014 M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
People think of Barbara Gowdy as a master of quirky characters and weird situations, and that's true enough.
Better, though, is the humanity and 'realness' she gives to characters and their admittedly extraordinary situations.
This novel, about a family that does not put the fun in dysfunctional, shows her at her best.
Astute, lovely, and poignant.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Turtle Valley
  • The Ravine
  • My Faith in Frankie
  • The Street
  • River of the Brokenhearted
  • Small Change
  • Confidence: Stories
  • The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, Vol. 2: Wanderlust Kings
  • A Jest of God
  • The Lesser Blessed
  • All That Matters
  • Crackpot: A Novel
  • Fight Like a Girl: A Short Story Anthology
  • Barnacle Love
  • Light Lifting
  • Princeless Short Stories Volume 1
  • The Boys in the Trees
  • Summer Gone
Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. Born in Windsor, Ontario, she is the long-time partner of poet Christopher Dewdney and resides in Toronto.
More about Barbara Gowdy...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »