Not to be a downer, but I thought this book was pretentious and meaningless. There were a few interesting word combinations, but not much I could grab...moreNot to be a downer, but I thought this book was pretentious and meaningless. There were a few interesting word combinations, but not much I could grab hold of. It wasn't clever, it was just trying too hard. (less)
This book didn't review well with Canadian media, and I'm attributing that to lazy reading. A bold statement, but it's one I'm prepared to stick with....moreThis book didn't review well with Canadian media, and I'm attributing that to lazy reading. A bold statement, but it's one I'm prepared to stick with. It makes me a bit sad this book wasn't better received, because Freehand Books deserves major props for their editorial choices. Every book I've read by Freehand has been solid, and it hurts my ex-publishing heart that they may soon close their doors. They recently suspended acquisitions and are phasing out their acquiring editor position, which is pretty much the kiss of death for this little Broadview imprint. And that's super lame.
Not Being on a Boat is about a divorced, retired man named Rutlege who has just purchased a lifetime retirement package on a cruise ship. He's in it for the long haul, set to travel the world by sea until he dies. We never actually learn much about Rutlege and his previous life, save for the fact that he's a divorced ex-entrepreneur with some questionable business practices. He's also pretty much a sociopath, which is a brave character trait for a first-time author to be tackling.
I can see how some might find the writing tedious, as events in the book are VERY slow to unfold. The story is narrated by Rutlege, whose flat, monotone voice is expertly crafted to actually BE tedious. The first half of the book describes Rutlege's daily activities, which include interactions with his personal butler, Raoul. Rutlege is in a constant state of evaluation, as he is very preoccupied with the quality of the customer service on the boat. He's forever acknowledging when he receives good customer service, mostly from Raoul, and complaining when the slightest thing is amiss, mostly to Raoul. After these evaluations, the reader always receives an emotionless, logical explanation for the positive or negative criticism--something that continues even as things start to go very wrong aboard the ship.
For a story that completely lacks a character arc, I was still captivated by what would happen to Rutlege as circumstances on the boat become increasingly apocalyptic. I despised the character but had no desire to stop reading, which in itself is demonstrative of Keith's talent. A quarter of the way through the novel, an encounter with civil war on a tropical island leaves a portion of the ship's residents taken hostage. This event is the catalyst for the slow deterioration of conditions on the ship, which is then unable to secure the necessary supplies for basic operations (food, water, and fuel, namely). Despite this major setback, the ship continues to put customer service at the forefront of its priorities to the point of ridicule. The ship's first-class dinner is reduced to the most meagre ingredients, yet it's still considered a black tie event. The boat is running out of clean water, to the point where bathing is limited, yet residents are drinking the finest champagne in the world. Even as Rutledge is made privy to the ship's difficulties, he is insistent that he be treated as one of the elite. Therein lies the book's massive satirical bend, Keith triumphantly skewering our society's sense of entitlement as it relates to what money can buy.
So many elements of the story just seemed to jive. The setting, a cruise ship, couldn't have been more perfect to showcase North American, baby-boomer excess. Rutlege is the supreme asshole that everyone has encountered at least once, whether it be at the table next to us at a restaurant or in line at a department store. As long as consumerism exists, that asshole will always be complaining that he isn't getting what he paid for. He'll always demand better treatment for a slightly higher price, and the sad thing is that he'll receive it if he pays. The Rutlege/Raoul dynamic highlighted this notion spot-on, as Rutlege understands paying a little extra for some special attention. It's interesting, too, when that dynamic changes as things start to get really bad on the ship -- or even more interestingly, how little the dynamic changes given the massive shift in circumstance. I won't give away the details, but it's this tidbit that indicates the amount of craftsmanship invested in the writing of the book.
I'd encourage anyone to pick up this gem, published by an independent press in Alberta. (less)
This book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved d...moreThis book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved down my throat all throughout elementary AND high school, but it was actually nice to go back there. I also learned a lot about les filles du roi that I didn't know before, and I felt I came away from the book with new knowledge of my ancestors.
But man, does this ever read like a PhD thesis. This is probably because the author is an academic who actually IS writing her PhD thesis on les filles du roi. All throughout the novel, I was amazed at how fiction could be made to sound so academic. I couldn't dream up more straightforward prose if I tried! It also seems like she's milking every possible opportunity to squeeze in as much historical fact as she can, and this sometimes causes the narrative to trip over itself. Even in the last ten pages, Desrochers manages to fit in little informative digressions that interrupt the book's climax. She's desperate to educate rather than entertain her audience.
I won't be too harsh about this, however, because I still think it's amazing that an author with strictly an academic background was able to transform pure research into a story that is still compelling. For the most part, Desrochers pulled off her first novel even though it's clear she's not really a novelist.(less)