so... 2-stars, i guess. this book was a bit of a frustrating read because the flow was inconsistent, which made for a very clunky reading experience.so... 2½-stars, i guess. this book was a bit of a frustrating read because the flow was inconsistent, which made for a very clunky reading experience. i do appreciate very much hopkinson's efforts. i liked the ideas of connection over time and female empowerment. and i also enjoyed the settings and characters. i just wish it all worked together better. i feel like i could have read 3 standalone novels about each of the different women featured, because there was so much going on with each of the women - mer (saint-domingue/haiti; 1700s), jeanne (france, and with charles baudelaire; 1800s), and meritel (egypt & jerusalem/aelia capitoline 2nd C. ) - and their lives.
so this is definitely a sweepingly ambitious novel, but the lack of balance (or even cohesion at times) across the narratives made this a less accomplished work than it could have been. in the realm of magical realism, hopkinson includes ezili, a spirit or goddess of sorts, who appears in the novel and wanders across times to anchor in each of the main characters at different moments. there is also the inclusion of strange magics (like shapeshifting) within mer's slave group on the sugar cane plantation in haiti. all the respect to hopkinson for her creativity, and seeing her idea through. she definitely evoked some vivid moments in this novel.
Right up front, I feel the need to say I love Anne Tyler. I will read anything she publishes. But, having said that... I find my love for her novels rRight up front, I feel the need to say I love Anne Tyler. I will read anything she publishes. But, having said that... I find my love for her novels really goes back and forth. I haven't ever strongly disliked anything she's written, but I certainly find some of her books amazing, while others settle around being just fine. And that's okay with me. Tyler does the nuance and undercurrents of marriage and family really well, and there are always moments of humour I appreciate in each of her stories.
In an interview, Tyler once said “I start every book thinking ‘This one will be different’ and it’s not. I have my limitations. I am fascinated by how families work, endurance, how do we get through life." I find these things fascinating too. When I pick up a book by Anne Tyler, I guess it's a bit like picking up a John Irving novel - you may not know the exact story going into the read, but you certainly know what to expect.
So, Breathing Lessons was a good read, but not a great read for me. I liked the concept of 'one day in the life', with flashbacks, as Maggie and Ira Moran navigate their emotional day.
The characters were very well done (save for Jesse and Daisy, to me) and I felt a bit sad for them all. Ira deferred his own dreams of medical school because of a difficult family that put him in charge of their lives, and his dad's picture framing business, when he was only 18yo. Maggie seems to have had a lot of potential in high school, but never really got or felt, I suppose, supported or encouraged - like nothing was ever good enough. Maggie, by the time we meet her, is a bit of a flustering confusion of a woman.
For both Maggie and Ira, life has been a series of disappointments and stifled goals. There are a couple of themes at work here. One is the idea of wastefulness - wasted talent, wasted energies, etc... The other concept revolves around 'ordinary life', which is somehow not okay and should be avoided. (For example: why be a nurse's aide, when you could become a nurse? A nurse's aide is not much better than a waitress, which is not much good at all.)
I think that where I am just a bit stuck is on the idea of 'to what end?' Because we are only spending one day with the Morans, I really didn't expect this to be answered as it really is only one slice of their lives. But I guess I would have enjoyed a bit more exploration - particularly of Maggie's character. Maggie was so hard on herself, critical. And she assumed things about others and how they thought of her, whether accurate or not. And she really exaggerated a lot. It's a bit like putting a puzzle together... but I am not sure all of the pieces are here. Anyway... it's interesting to contemplate this novel and the characters, imagining what becomes of them all.
This book is one being read in one of my groups as a monthly read for February, 2016. I am hoping that the discussions will be active, and I am looking forward to hearing the different perspectives and ideas others take from the read.
edited to add: just an aside, which i forgot to note earlier. so, this book is set in the mid-80s. ira and maggie are about 50yo. in the early stages of the book, i thought this was set at an earlier time, maybe the 50s, and that ira and maggie were much older. it was a bit peculiar. everything felt slightly out of step with the actual time of the story. (the clothing, the language, the mannerisms...)...more
2 -stars. this was an okay read. i found i was hugely distracted by the product placements/mentions of brand names throughout. (i have to look back on2 ½-stars. this was an okay read. i found i was hugely distracted by the product placements/mentions of brand names throughout. (i have to look back on book #1 in this series, i think i took issue with this then, too.)
ava lee is an interesting character with so much potential... but i just don't know if hamilton is pulling it off for me. the writing isn't terrific (sorry!!!) and i think that's what making me feel like there is a disservice to ava lee going on. i can see this working well as a TV series (CBC is apparently adapting it). lee is evolving so slowly though, in the books. between book one and book two, not much development has gone on with her character at all.
still, i do like ava lee, and moments of the book are fun. these books are easy, escapist reads - perfect for vacation reading, or if you are sick and want something not too taxing. i will try book #3, and i hope things develop and become a bit more interesting. books #1 and #2 were just so similar, so i am a little worried that, save for a few changes in characters and settings, each book is very much the same.
right upfront, i should probably acknowledge that i have a complete soft spot for literature about newfoundland, and for newfoundland writers. and i fright upfront, i should probably acknowledge that i have a complete soft spot for literature about newfoundland, and for newfoundland writers. and i fairly adore michael winter. happily, this novel was a great read for me.
minister without portfolio, among many things, presents an intriguing concept: each of us has an orbit of 100 people, people to whom we have responsibilities.
when we first meet henry hayward, his life is not going well. and as the story continues, woes pile upon woes. as hayward works through his traumas and guilt, while rebuilding a century-old shack that lacks power and water, he regroups and tries to remake his life. but hayward is also working out his 100 people and what he's doing for them. (and if this book works for you, you may find yourself thinking about your own people and responsibilities.)
'minister without portfolio' is a concept originally misunderstood by hayward, when he is given the nickname by his friend tender morris. thinking morris meant hayward was wayward (heh!) or rootless, he took it as a not-so-flattering nickname, a reminder of the state of his life. but hayward has a realization later on in the story, one that helps tie things together, about what morris really meant in dubbing hayward 'minister without portfolio'.
winter has admitted his use of real life in the fiction he writes. and that certainly is the case in minister without portfolio a very specific incident occurs to hayward which actually happened to winter (link will be spoiler-y if you haven't read the novel). i had read this walrus essay when it was first published. revisiting it while reading MWP had me a little amused by how much of the essay appears, nearly word-for-word, in the novel. creative nonfiction? creative license with the truth? does it matter? it's an incredible story and winter is a lucky man.
and winter is a funny man, too. there was a lot of humour in this novel which i appreciated. i know that humour in fiction doesn't always work for readers so i am sure this aspect of the novel will vary from reader to reader. but i do believe you have to find the humour in life as often as possible - this can help make the seemingly unbearable manageable, if even for a moment.
winter's writing style is one i quite like. though dealing with weighty issues and traumatic instances, i never felt burdened as a reader. winter's prose could be described as simplistic -- but that shouldn't be confused with 'simple'. i found there to be an elegance in his writing and each sentence felt purposeful and right. his settings are vivid, and his characters interesting and nuanced, and i loved the dialogue.
though i have had this novel since its release, i picked it up now as it is in the running for canada reads 2016. the theme is 'starting over', and i think this is a cool choice to be included. it should make for good debate with the other panelists and books in the running. (oh yeah, in case you don't know -- canada has an annual reality show about books, 'canada reads'!)
a few articles i want to link in here, just to keep as references: