oh boy. file this one, unfortunately, under 'hot mess'; this is such a problematic novel.
it has a great idea at its core, but the book is just not weoh boy. file this one, unfortunately, under 'hot mess'; this is such a problematic novel.
it has a great idea at its core, but the book is just not well realized. i am trying to imagine the wrangling the editor had to do to get it to this state, and even then... it's just so... bad. the main character, clara, is inaccessible. she's aloof as a person - the words come out but there's no emotion or hint of oomph from her - and the author really offers no way into the character for readers. there are a crap-ton of threads in this story... many go nowhere, save for the purpose of 'here was this moment in history, i'm going to mention it in the story and tick off this box'.
the focus and voices in the book are all over the place, as is the structure. and the tone is continually patronizing. i understand the very likely intent was to show openness and progressive thinking of a woman in the 1920s, but instead her words and actions constantly come across as condescending and judgemental. at times, it was outright offensive because it felt so clearly pandering. (which i am fairly certain is the complete opposite intention of the author, who i believe to be a lovely, smart and well-intentioned woman.) i have a list, below, of all the different issues johnston glances past in this book. it's a long one. each of these instances were so ineffective. i am not sure - beyond aforementioned history lesson - of her goal? there were no deep explorations, each issue just felt like a opinion placard being waved about.
E.L. Doctorow said this: "Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” and i was reminded of it several times while i read johnston's book, for what was not being delivered.
anyway, i am sorry to be so critical and negative towards this book, it's not something i enjoy. but i am truly wondering how this book got to press like this? also: holy bad title, batman. sigh.
• oh my gosh - nearly every man in this story is short and stocky. save the one guy who was kind of fit. but still short. we are told about the stature, hair and eyes of every man introduced. it's so weird.
• subjects introduced that go next to nowhere - it's like there's a checklist of issues johnston was working through: ◦ sexual abuse by a priest ◦ botched abortion ◦ terrible relationship between clara and her mother, amelia ◦ amelia's ostracization, and complete break from the family ◦ racism ◦ prohibition ◦ gay men ◦ anorexia ◦ suicide ◦ stress eating = fat; being in love = weight loss ◦ residential school abuse ◦ 1929 market crash ◦ misogyny
• things that should be gotten over because nurse clara says so: ◦ quadruple amputations ◦ phantom limb pain ◦ pregnancy out of wedlock ◦ being abused by a priest
• totally patronizing. continuous tone of condescension throughout the story. ...more
billie is a raw and jarring novel from one of my favourite writers. anna gavalda has written wonderfully about pain, belonging, love3.5-stars, really.
billie is a raw and jarring novel from one of my favourite writers. anna gavalda has written wonderfully about pain, belonging, love, and outcasts in her past works, so it is not surprising to encounter these themes again in this newest book. i will admit i was really surprised gavalda reused character names from Hunting and Gathering - franck and camille. i must get to the bottom of this! :) unlike her past stories, though, there is a sharpness, an edge, to billie - as the story unfolds, it's more in-your-face, and seems to create an urgency that i have not felt in reading her previous stories.
i like billie, but i don't love it the way i love Hunting and Gathering or I Wish Someone Were Waiting for Me Somewhere. i think it comes down to the way this story is told - billie and franck have had a accident while hiking. billie is slightly injured, franck moreso. they have to pass the night before billie will attempt to hike out for help. unable to sleep, billie begins to recount their lives and their friendship and talks to a star in the sky. at moments, of course, this feels like a religious exchange - i will tell you all this stuff with honesty, if you let my friend survive. but at other times it felt a bit precious or twee. 'oh my little star.' so i did not fully buy into this voice. and i am not sure about the ending. i am still thinking it over and can't decide if it's brilliant or too easy.
in this novel, billie talks briefly about being invisible. and i do think this story deals with some important issues, like gender, sexuality, class divides, things people do to survive. there is a novel that's been getting a lot of attention in canada lately: When Everything Feels like the Movies, by Raziel Reid. billie almost feels like a companion to WEFLtM, so gavalda's book may work well for readers of reid's book who are looking for something similar. i certainly think billie serves as a great crossover book between YA and adult fiction and that it would be an excellent book for mature high school students to read, or even be taught. oh sure, some parents (or readers) might get caught up in the fact there's bad language and sex, but i would suggest reading with compassion and getting over yourself. the pictures gavalda (and reid) give through their books are realistic and true. to think these stories are otherwise, that people are not living and struggling in these ways, is living in a bubble of ignorance that must be very nice for you.
(sorry!! i hate sounding rude. i think i get a bit defensive when readers review books that deal with difficult or sensitive issues, and do so in a completely judgmental and negative way. and i feel like gavalda and her characters could be judged negatively. certainly raziel reid has had to deal with a firestorm of haters. and it's very unfortunate. reading, they say, increases empathy. books like WEFLtM and billie certainly should help in this regard. but people need to have open minds and, as i have said already, compassion.)
hmm... i seem to have gone off on a tangent here. so i will close this up now. but, seriously, franck and camille, in two books. what's up anna gavalda? i will figure this out!! :) ...more