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

The Sentimentalists

2.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,570 Ratings  ·  373 Reviews
Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel connects the flooding of an Ontario town, the Vietnam War, a trailer in North Dakota and an unfinished boat in Maine. Parsing family history, worn childhood memories, and the palimpsest of old misunderstandings, Skibsrud’s narrator maps her father’s past.

Napoleon Haskell lives with Henry in the town of Casablanca, Ontario, on the shores of a
Paperback, 224 pages
Published 2010 by Douglas & McIntyre (first published October 1st 2009)
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 The Sentimentalists, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Sentimentalists

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

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Moira Fogarty
Nov 13, 2012 Moira Fogarty rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found the writing in this novel utterly exasperating. The sentences are convoluted, coiled together with endless commas and parentheses and semi-colons; fractured thoughts hammered roughly back together with an excess of punctuation.

Never have I read such a short book so slowly. Moving through this text was like pushing through molasses, the structure and arrangement of words sucked at my eyeballs like quicksand.

Many people seem to embrace the convoluted, disjointed language in this book bec
Jonathan Schildbach
The writing in this book is absolutely beautiful, frequently poetic in describing the mundane. The story plays with time and place as the narrator attempts to piece together enough information to make it possible for her to understand her father. A number of devices run through the story, most notably a town that's underwater due to a river being dammed up, and a wooden boat that was decades in the making, as well as a strange and cobbled-together house that was the narrator's childhood home. Sk ...more
Dorothyanne Brown
I don't get the attention to this book. It is depressing depressing depressing, and there is no relief throughout. Everyone walks about not saying anything to anyone. In one of my "favorite" passages (well, it did make me snort with laugher), the narrator's sister stands up and says nothing to the narrator and the father, then walks to the door, pauses, and says nothing again. It's enough to make me want to scream, simply for some noise in the narrative.
It all seems just a wee bit too precious f
Andrew Smith
This is the book that recently won Canada's highest-profile literary award, The Giller Prize. A furore followed the announcement that ‘The Sentimentalists’ had won surrounding the inability of the book’s small independent publisher, Gaspereau Press, to produce books fast enough to satisfy the demand. At the time the publisher, Andrew Steeves, said something to the effect that he doubted the wisdom of having just four people (the Giller judges) dictate what the majority should and would read. A g ...more
Am I glad I read this book? Yes. Do I think there were moments of beautiful and poetic phrasing, as well as thoughtful introspection? Yes. Do I think the writing and story as a whole are worthy of the Giller? Not really. I think Skibsrud is going to be a very good writer. I think that her second and third efforts, if they make it to publication, will be books to read and savour.

And I think that this, her first novel, would have benefitted a great deal from a stronger editing hand.

It's easy to
Mar 20, 2011 Andrew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The talk of the publishing world. The darling about town from the little press that could. Such is the weight that Johanna Skibsrud’s debut novel has been saddled with since its unexpected Giller win back in November 2010. Against what some guessed were sure bets—Light Lifting and Annabel immediately spring to mind—this hand-crafted, small print run title surprised everybody, taking home the largest prize in the Canadian publishing industry.

I managed to snag a copy of this, conveniently and to m
A horse, long of face, its hooves clattering on the cobbles that overlie the bones of settlers long dead, of child victims of diptheria and German measles, its long face hanging from the arch of its long neck, walks into a bar.

And the bartender says, why so ineffably sad?

This is a joke, as told by a poet-novelist. And The Sentimentalists is a novel, as told by a poet-novelist: over-written, over long even at a mere 216 pages, and, thanks to the Giller Prize, over-praised.

It starts well. Skibsru
Robert Docking
I agree with a number of other readers who have commented on their problems with Ms Skibsrud's style. At one point early on, I noted to myself that I'd never seen so many bleeding commas. I'm glad I persisted, however, because i found there was real power in the main narrative that focuses on the tragic circumstances of the father's experience in Vietnam. In those pages, much of the writing is more direct, and the gain in emotional power is significant. The knotty prose in other parts of the nov ...more
Dec 17, 2010 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I, too, having had, in times past, the joy of putting pen to paper, love, although perhaps not as much as Skibsrub, but more than I found most editor's do, the kind of convoluted sentences that require a comma (or semicolon) every five, or so, words. If, at each literary stop, a new line were started (press ENTER here) it might be more readable--or more poemish. But no less story-like.
Jan 16, 2011 Shane rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found the recent story about how this book took off, thanks to the "Giller Effect," a more interesting one than the novel itself.

The storyline is disjointed with frequent shifts in time and place and tells mostly of a daughter’s (I don’t think I got her name) final visit with her alcoholic Vietnam veteran father, Napoleon, who is determined to kill himself by drinking. Napoleon has been at it for many years, drifting through multiple locations after deserting his young family, until he is haul
May 24, 2011 Ellie rated it it was ok
So far I'm having a really hard time reading this book....which is very diappointing because I was soo looking forward to spending my Christmas vacation getting lost in this award-winner.....I am intrigued....I do want to know the story behind what I am reading....I just find it awkward and hard to follow...I keep having to go back and find out if this part is taking place in Canada or the States...if this is taking place in the present or it's already happened and she's re-telling it or remembe ...more
Sep 29, 2011 Gem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The voice of the daughter in this novel is very beautiful. There is not a lot of factual detail in this book, but we learn so much about the characters through their actions, the way they speak, and their memories. The way the author weaves in and out of present day and past memories is very lyrical.

I found it interesting that we aren’t told much about Henry’s past initially, but it is very easy to see how he has been affected by the Vietnam War, one event in particular. This novel is essentiall
Steve Turtell
This is the third highly praised, award-winning, "literary" novel I've left unfinished this year. While it's clear that Skibsrud is talented, she's far too young to have earned the portentous, solemn, elegiac tone she strains for over and over in this badly organized book. In the first section the novel seems to begin a dozen times or more; each section starts the narrative again with a perfectly good first sentence. And each of these sections reads like a complete prose poem about a particular ...more
I enjoyed reading this book, although I'm uncertain about the ending and what purpose it serves. The first part of the book is narrated by a woman and tells the story of her father throughout her childhood and adulthood. He interacted strangely with her mother and her and her sister - although loving them, unable to communicate with them. He had fought in the Vietnam war, and after suffering a bad break-up, the narrator goes to live with her father to learn more about his experiences. He is dis ...more
Blake Chapman
Apr 29, 2012 Blake Chapman rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read The Sentimentalists because it won the Giller Prize.

The theme that this very short book (~150 pages) explores of memories and the truth hiding below the surface is very intriguing, but hard to discern due to a few stylistic issues.

The story was indeed "lyrical", if that means "teeming with commas". And once I noticed how nearly every sentence was slightly too long, with at least two or three distinct concepts it was hard to look past them for the big picture. Overall, the book could have
Ruth Seeley
Jan 23, 2011 Ruth Seeley rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This Giller Prize winner was so extraordinarily bad I think I might have to write a full-length review. Struggling through the first 100 pages (described by some reviewers as lyrical but in fact hysterically over-written), I started to imagine William Shatner doing the audio book. Once that happened it was all downhill. The second segment was marginally better but is ruined by the third, the supposed 'testimony' of the main character, Napoleon Haskell. In which it is revealed that his syntax and ...more
Feb 08, 2015 Jean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book from the library shelf because of the Giller. I stumbled my way through it. Her writing style with so many commas, dashes, and conjuctions! It is a stumble read. I enoyed her poetic style,and her father,Napoleon, and his love for his daughter.
I also enjoyed the character Henry, the father of his wartime friend. He was the solid patriarch for this lost family broken fom the Vietnam war. The broken memories make sense to me,what is a memory but just a whiff of the past. I also l
Hal Carim
Aug 19, 2011 Hal Carim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Loud Raspberries for Johanna Skibsruds The Sentimentalists, winner of this years Giller Prize. (1) The Giller prize award for Canadian literary excellence has been given this year at best for quirky reasons be it the author’s unusual name, the boutique printing press - Gaspereau printing it or the fact that the committee consists of, believe it, just three people with their faddist tastes - Well, they have succeeded in at least scaring me away from any of their future recommendations. (2) The bo ...more
Nikki Stafford
It could be argued that anything written after 1918 is a war novel of sorts; after the devastation of WWI human consciousness seemed to change, and philosophies, thoughts, and worldviews were altered forever. As such, so much of 20th century lit has been made up of war novels, from the sublime Catch-22 to Ondaatje's English Patient. So the war novel has definitely been covered, not just in lit but in TV (M*A*S*H) and in film. The Sentimentalists hinges on one incident that happened to the narrat ...more
Parts of the book I enjoyed other aspect were a little off putting, but overall the book was a fairly good book.

One of the best aspects of the book was the writing. Something about the writing was what initially grabbed my attention, and what kept me reading. The quality of the writing and style very well done. The author easily creates a strong voice for the narrative which sets the tone throughout the entire book.

I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second half. Mostly because th
Bruce M
Oct 10, 2011 Bruce M rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one.
Recommended to Bruce by: Mother-in-law
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 22, 2011 Jen rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
This story should have been set in a universe in the centre of a flower, or the centre of the earth or another planet, maybe one that doesn't even exist yet, or somewhere equally impossible and unlikely. There was nothing even remotely related to real life in this "novel". Each time something ordinary and concrete like computers, DVDs, the stock market, graduation photos, the grocery store, etc, was printed on the page it was JARRING AS HELL because the previous 8 pages would have been nothing b ...more
Alexander Inglis
Winner of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, arguably Canada's highest literary award, Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists made headlines, not just as a first novel but for having been effectively out of print when it won. Produced by a small literary press in Nova Scotia (Gaspereau), the only extant copies were printed letterpress and hand bound; only days before the award was announced, Kobo stepped in to facilitate distribution as an ebook. Skibsrud had previously had two volumes of poetry ...more
Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)
This review first appeared on my blog:

The description gives a great idea of the plot, so I won't summarize it here.

This novel won the Giller Prize in 2010, and was the Globe and Mail Top 100 Book in Canadian Fiction in 2010 as well.

I will NOT use the trite, "I WANTED to like this book, but" line. I didn't want to like it; I expected to like it because of the awards it won, but I'm guessing that I would need to be more of an "intellectual" reader to do so.
I couldn't get into this book at all. I only read to page 54 and it just wasn't holding it together for me and I had to return it to the library. I found the writing style really difficult to follow and disjointed. I'm no english major so excuse my limited knowledge of proper writing terminology and styles, but almost every other sentence in the book was a complex sentence. Example: this book, while it might have been interesting if I would have continued to read it and hadn't gotten distracted ...more
Patrick Brown
This book comes with an odd but alluring pedigree. Not only did it win the prestigious Giller Prize, Canada's top literary honor, it did so after being published by a "micropublisher," Gaspereau Press, who originally printed a whopping 800 copies of the book. The book took down many more commercially imposing titles to win an award that has previously gone to literary titans like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood. After its win, it became a hot item on the Kobo ebook platform, and now W.W. Norton ...more
Apr 10, 2012 Lindsay rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading the Sentimentalists and certainly cannot recommend it - The storyline is disjointed with frequent shifts in time and place and is about a daughter’s final visit with her alcoholic Vietnam veteran father, Napoleon, who is determined to kill himself by drinking. The base of the book is about a horrific incident in Vietnam (which is a true story) about the slaughter by Marines of unarmed Vietnamese women. Full of depression and guilt this is not a fun read. I found myself co ...more
Nov 11, 2014 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found her stories strange and opaque and feel the same way about this book. Her writing is all hints and shades and there are several sentences that never quite gave their meaning away even after multiple readings. It is like trying to look at something full on, rather than just out ofthe corner of your eye and I still don't exactly whether I like it or not.
I would have liked to give this book more stars especially as it won the Giller Prize this year. For me the first half of the book was very enjoyable. I liked the imagery and the unfolding of the story about the narrator's father and his unconventional relationship with his family. The second half of the book takes place at the lakeside home of a family friend in Ontario where the narrator questions her father about his role in the Vietnam War and what happened to his friend, Owen, who was also ...more
Jeannette McCalla
Aug 09, 2016 Jeannette McCalla rated it really liked it
Picky picky people reviewed this book before me. Less than 3 stars? Ridiculous!
It is nowhere near as horrible in its punctuation as people are writing. There is a bit much of it but come on! Get past it and see the novel for the beautifully sad story it is.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Light Lifting
  • The Matter With Morris
  • This Cake Is for the Party: Stories
  • The Bone Cage
  • Seen Reading
  • This All Happened
  • Garbo Laughs
  • The Golden Mean
  • Sanctuary Line
  • Effigy
  • Hellgoing: Stories
  • Soucouyant
  • Better Living Through Plastic Explosives
  • Lemon
  • What They Wanted
  • Irma Voth
  • The Little Shadows
  • A Good House
Johanna Skibsrud is the author of The Sentimentalists, winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and This Will Be Difficult to Explain, as well as two poetry collections. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.
More about Johanna Skibsrud...

Share This Book

“Women think that they can make sad things go away by knowing the reason that they happened.” 9 likes
“I had thought in those years, I suppose, having learned the lesson from my mother well, that it was foolish to ask for too much out of life, afterwards only to live in the wake of that expectation, an irreducible disappointment. But what pain, I thought now, could be greater than to realize that even the practical reality for which you had assumed to settle upon, did not hold – that even that was illusory? Would it not be better, then, to set your sights on some more fantastic and rare dream from which even in failing you might take some comfort in having once aspired?” 8 likes
More quotes…