"Derek Walcott's lines "But islands can only exist / if we have loved in them" ornament the first page of The House at the Edge of Night, i
"Derek Walcott's lines "But islands can only exist / if we have loved in them" ornament the first page of The House at the Edge of Night, impressively meaningless words that nonetheless have a sundrenched romance to them. In a similar way, The House at the Edge of Night is a lovely novel but not a precise one, a misty Mediterranean dream of a book in which there is only room for the emotions found in children's tales: sad, glad, hopeful, lonely. Women are beautiful, men are tall, the air smells of bougainvillea... Banner animates the familiar: Like pictures of a childhood summer, or a half-forgotten smell, this book is sweet and heady with nostalgia; not radical, maybe, but comforting as a quilt."*
I was trying to collect my thoughts on this debut adult novel from Banner, when I came across this NPR review (excerpted above, linked below), and it pretty much summed up my feelings. Banner does a lovely job bringing to life the island of Castellamare, and her characters - though not deeply drawn - are vivid and easy to imagine. Banner weaves folklore, superstition, and religious belief (and devotion to one particular saint) into her story and it creates and interesting feel to the storytelling. Though The House at the Edge of the Night isn't really magical realism, the MR undercurrent felt present.
My only real issue with the story came towards the end - things picked up quite a bit and closed off rather too neatly - when the small village, vulnerable to the late-00s recession, has a bit of a financial meltdown. My "Yeah... but...": it felt almost exactly like It's a Wonderful Life - the scene where George explains how the savings and loans business works to the rattled townspeople. But this section of the novel didn't play well for me, so I did get distracted and a little grumbly.
Otherwise, reading this story was an enjoyable summer escape. If you are going to read in summer, why not venture to an island on the Sicilian coast? Oh, and for the armchair travellers having vicarious experiences through reading: the book will probably make you hungry and thirsty for authentic Italian fare.
Many thanks to Random House Canada for the review copy of this novel. The hardcover edition is absolutely gorgeous!
oh, you guys - i am so torn over this one. i love anne tyler, and i love shakespeare. this whole 'hogarthif we could do half-stars, 2 ½ for this one.
oh, you guys - i am so torn over this one. i love anne tyler, and i love shakespeare. this whole 'hogarth shakespeare' project is completely intriguing to me, and i have now read all 3 of the books that have been released so far. i was worried about how this retelling would be worked by tyler. The Taming of the Shrew has its problems in our modern times and debates about misogyny, the patriarchy, and submissive females whose only value is as a married woman are not uncommon. but, could shakespeare have been making strong social commentary in support of women? who knows. but there is a lot of meaty background to consider and dig into.
enter anne tyler! :)
"That Tyler was willing to participate in this project at all is something of a fluke. The Hogarth editor just happened to catch her in a vulnerable moment. Tyler says, “When they first mentioned the possibility to me, I actually laughed, because here’s somebody with terrible plots — and they’re not even his own — but wonderful words, and then someone comes along and says, ‘Why don’t you take his terrible plot and add your inferior words to it?’ I mean really, does it make any sense?”
she cracks me up! but vinegar girl was not quite as entertaining as i had hoped. 'kate' seems a bit watered down - her temper and 'shrewdness' have lost a lot of their edge. her father and 'pyotr' (the updated 'petruchio') seem more caricatures - which isn't totally out of line with some of shakespeare's work... but it just didn't work for me coming from tyler. (though i will admit i was totally wanting more about kate's dad and pyoter being immunologists and autoimmune researchers at johns hopkins, nearing a breakthrough. i would totally read that novel if the caricatures issue was addressed. heh!)
with this novel, while it was quick reading and had its moments, i came away feeling a bit bummed that i didn't find too much humour in it, and that there wasn't a bit more nuance going on in the story. and a few situations in the novel were just left dangling. so this wasn't a novel i found sharp and highly engaging, unfortunately.
many thanks to mclelland & stewart (PRHC) for the ARC edition of this book -- i have been keenly anticipating this read in 2016.
3 stars, if we comany thanks to mclelland & stewart (PRHC) for the ARC edition of this book -- i have been keenly anticipating this read in 2016.
3 ½ stars, if we could.
the parker family is one hot mess. but aren't all families in at least one way or another? jones has created an interesting cast of characters in her novel, and i particularly loved how each character had their own warning sign included in a legend. each chapter is headed by one the ten signs. i feel like jones got into some really interesting research while working on this book - lake superior, geology, marine life, daredevils going over falls, paris, health issues... it all weaves well into creating the parker family history and foundation. i very much enjoyed the thunder bay setting
there were a few issues with the novel i had a bit of trouble with -- there is a device that repeats, 'if this were a movie...' crops up many times to denote how a film version of the parker life would vary from the reality. a bit meta, heh! the first couple of times it was interesting... but i felt it just came up too many times and it took me out of the flow of the read. another issue, i was more invested and engaged in certain storylines and characters, so then felt the other threads to be noisy (if that makes sense?) finally, i also felt like a couple of the story arcs petered out a bit weakly.
but these aren't huge complaints... just things i noticed while reading that were a little distracting. really, there is a lovely heart to we're all in this together. jones does a wonderful job with tensions and frictions in family, the things that go unsaid and bubble just below the surface, and the different ways people are never fully known to others. as well, jones displays wonderful sensitivity in charting kate's, the parker family matriarch's, path.
and, because this tune has been in my mind ever since i learned the title of this novel, and i can't stop thinking about it even time i think of this book ... i give you sam roberts band. 'keep moving don't stop", indeed! : https://youtu.be/VojforS6qFM
reviewing a book like this can be a tricky prospect as there are two issues to consider: the importance of the material; and the quality of the writinreviewing a book like this can be a tricky prospect as there are two issues to consider: the importance of the material; and the quality of the writing.
on the first count, rawlence has given readers an important and necessary work. on the second count, i found the style inconsistent and, at times, difficult to follow. not because the language was hard or inaccessible (though he does, periodically, like to throw out $5 words which end up sticking out like sore thumbs, heh), but because of how the story jumps around from person to person, place to place. (and, usually, i don't have trouble with non-linear timelines, and multiple characters or people.) there is, of course, a chaos to the lives and situations, so in that sense the style of the book is an accurate reflection.
i am wondering about format. i read this as an e-pub (nook). there were a few maps at the beginning of the book which were great, but i couldn't zoom in or out on them. there were no other images included. and that may sound like a silly thing to criticize, but i do think it would have helped this book a lot with context and putting the reader in the camps. (i feel there could have been a way to do this while protecting the privacy and security of the 9 featured people.) and images are an aspect of nonfiction reading i always enjoy. i am going to investigate the paper edition at the bookshop.
i didn't learn a lot of new information from this book, so if you tend to have an interest in and concern about international politics and humanitarian crises, it may feel familiar to you. but i am glad i read this book. i think that by featuring specific individuals rawlence helps breakdown the overwhelming and heartbreaking problems of the refugee camps, and makes it all more relatable and accessible. i'm just bummed the reading didn't flow better. something i would have liked included in this book is an approach to solutions, or an examination of what needs to happen to offer hope and a safe, stable way out to the hundreds of thousands of people living in a dangerous and threatening limbo. (and i hope none of this sound flip. i have so much worry and empathy for refugees, and all they endure and survive. it is often frustrating to feel helpless and useless because of governments or NGOs, and their ingrained (corrupt and broken) systems prevent progress or solutions, under the guise of 'we are helping.')
so - this is an emotionally tough read at times and, understandably, hope is difficult to find. but it is there.
so... i think i made a mistake in reading this book the way i did. i should have gone back and re-read October. nightfall has excerpts from that earliso... i think i made a mistake in reading this book the way i did. i should have gone back and re-read October. nightfall has excerpts from that earlier novel, and revisits characters - showing us what's transpired since. and while i remember loving october, most of the details are lost to me. i feel like i would have been more engaged with nightfall if october was fresher in my mind. while i do think nightfall functions as a standalone work, if you are particular about continuity in your reading, go back to the 2007 work first.
i am feeling a bit torn over this new novel. parts of it were terrific, but at moments things felt sloppy, and choppy in the flow. also, i can't decide if i am totally sold on the idea of long italicized excerpts from october being worked into nightfall? i did appreciate the exploration of memory, and how our early lives stay with us, and how easily we can circle back. but, overall, i am just sort of sitting here going 'hunh.'
i've been trying to figure out what to say about this book since finishing it last night, and i can't quite swavering between 3 and 4 stars. 3 ½-stars.
i've been trying to figure out what to say about this book since finishing it last night, and i can't quite sort it out in my head. at times, while reading, i was completely caught up and immersed in the story. but at other times, i felt like the book was lagging under its own weight and importance. for the breadth of the novel, the depth was often shallower than i expected from proulx, especially given the meaty 700+ page count. certainly, i could tell barkskins was a passion project for proulx (alliteration unintentional) - the research covered so many subjects, over such a span of time. apparently, it took nearly 15 years for this book to reach us. so i have great respect for proulx and this project. and yet... i did not love the book as much as i had hoped/wanted to.
what i really liked:
• the structure, following the two bloodlines of rené sel and charles duquet (later, duke). the two men were brought to new france as part of the seigneurial system shenanigans. as indentured labourers (woodcutters, in this case), the habitants would come into their own land after several years of work and poor treatment. sel's line joins with that of the mi'kmaq people and their difficult histories. duquet's story begins what will become an american logging empire. • the characters were not at all difficult to follow - each was so distinct and well crafted. though there are a lot of them - how could there not be over 300 years of families? - family trees are included. • how attached i became to some of the characters • the environmental theme, and settings in new france, the US, europe and new zealand. place as character is something i really get into when reading fiction and proulx brings her settings alive so completely.
and for as much as the moments i really enjoyed, these are where things went slightly sideways for me:
• i was disappointed over how some of the storylines just fell away or felt unresolved, though sometimes proulx gives readers some gruesome demises. • the proselytizing was sometimes heavy-handed (and i am already inclined to share proulx's worries and frustrations). • the ending felt odd and a little abrupt to me. had the family lines - after the 'what's going to happen?' intrigue was so built up - come together once again for a juicy dénouement, that would have been super-satisfying. • the previously mentioned lack of depth.
often, with writers we strongly favour, we are prepared to make allowances or overlook clunkiness when things wobble a bit. but i find the this trickier to do when there is time and the space within a book.
but, having said all of this and, perhaps, sounding like an negative nellie (sorry!!) i did enjoy the book, and hope you will read it too. it just was not the blow-me-down 5-star read i had hoped for. though i realize the fault may be all mine and this a case of not keeping expectations in check.
so... a funny thing happened on the way to reading this book: going into the novel, i did not know it was a retelling of The Great Gatsby. well it couso... a funny thing happened on the way to reading this book: going into the novel, i did not know it was a retelling of The Great Gatsby. well it could be argued that, yes, i can be bit thick at times, i tend to keep myself in a bit of a bubble when it comes to knowing the plots of new novels that i have not yet had a chance to read. i read a very little ways into gorsky and went "WHY AM I READING A BOOK ABOUT CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN GATSBY IN ENGLAND?" a few hours later, i received an email from a dear friend, "Did you know Gorsky was a retelling of Gatsby?" i guess, in some ways, it helped knowing this was completely intentional. and yet... sigh.
the book was already on my radar, then it was longlisted for the bailey's women's prize in fiction. so it was bumped up my TBR list. i will admit,though, that i am kind of scratching my head over it being in contention for the award. i am not really sure what this retelling brings to the table? while the original had certain amounts of charm, thanks to the setting and time, the updated edition did not benefit in this regard. the contemporary extravagances and lifestyles only served to irritate, rather than illuminate, and it was all very surface. too, i think there was a bit of a sense or feeling of innocence within fitzgerald's original which was lost in goldsworthy's.
if you don't know, Hogarth Shakespeare Project is presently at work publishing modern retellings of shakespeare's plays. so far, i have read The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold, by Jeanette Winterson, and loved it a lot - this was a far more creative and engaging project (than Gorky). on deck, i have Shylock Is My Name, by Howard Jacobson and Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler. i was really hesitant about this project when i first learned about it. i don't know... i think perhaps i don't quite understand the urge or need to take on a classic work of literature and modernize it. i mean... i know it happens all the time, across entertainment mediums (and, i have enjoyed some of them). i also understand completely loving and admiring novels and writers, and being inspired by certain works. but that doesn't mean it's always a good idea to take any of them on and rework them. (and, really, not much was reworked in Gorsky. this is truly a 'retelling' versus and 'inspired by' situation.)
i am just rambling at this point. my thoughts are a bit confused over this book, so i am not making much sense here. i guess i would have been more receptive had the writing been stronger, or the characters better developed. perhaps if you have never read Gatsby, you will find Gorsky enjoyable....more
alrighty.... so. i finished this book hours and hours ago, and still can't decided what i feel about it. i didn't love it. i didn't loathe it. so it'salrighty.... so. i finished this book hours and hours ago, and still can't decided what i feel about it. i didn't love it. i didn't loathe it. so it's somewhere in between... but i can't quite put my finger on what was really off for me.
for sure there are some flaws, and the ending was just too damn tidy for such a messy group of people - though it was more than these things making me feel as though something was off. best i can figure right now, i just wasn't into some of the characters, and wanted so much more on others. like, i would read a whole novel about walker. or nora and louisa. or francie. or stephanie. or bea. (though not if it focused on the clichéd professor-student relationship. sigh. is it just me who is really tired of this trope in fiction?)
the book also felt so predictable as i was reading, which kept getting in the way for me. at the neatly packaged ending, i did think 'so, who cares?' look, i appreciate unlikeable characters a whole lot, usually. these plumb siblings are not the most thoughtful bunch of people, and they are (mostly) not dealing with monumentally impossible problems. they come across as shallow and entitled. and the whole idea of 'the nest' having grown “to numbers beyond their wildest dreams” might have had more oomph is it was higher than $2M (or $500,000 to each plumb offspring) - when the amount was revealed, i kind of did a 'wait, what?' i am by no stretch of the imagination well off, but $2M doesn't seem beyond anyone's wildest dreams these days - though the book is set a few years, not many, back. (and, again -- $2M a huge amount of money. life changing money. but less so when divided by 4. throw in the previously mentioned entitlement in 3 of the 4 siblings, and the swanky new york city commentary, and this silly piece of the book was a miss for me. (silly in that i am quibbling over something stupid. i know. sorry!! :) i thought, when it was revealed, and after that set-up, 'the nest' was going to have $50M in it or something stupid-high. i hope i am making sense here??)
"Like a big glass of house white at happy hour, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel goes down terribly easily. The problem with cut‑price chardonnay, though, is that it tends to give you a touch of acid reflux."-Hermione Hoby
i realize my feelings on the book are wildly different than many who have read it. there's a lot of love floating around out there for this novel - one d'aprix sweeney received a 7-figure advance for. (and i have to say: i LOVE that she is a debut novelist at age 55! love that so, so much!) the nest is a good bet for summer or vacation reading - it's a quick read, has a certain level of entertainment value, and doesn't require a huge amount of focus.
i don't know, maybe more will come to me on this later. sorry for this hot-mess of a 'review'.
the goodreads giveaway gods smiled down upon me and i actually won a copy of this new book! :)
i'm not really sure how to review3 ½-stars, if we could.
the goodreads giveaway gods smiled down upon me and i actually won a copy of this new book! :)
i'm not really sure how to review lab girl, though. it was a funny combination of awesome and.... off. something in how i experienced jahren's voice/tone through the book was slightly unsettling and detached.
i read lab girl very quickly, in two sessions on a glorious, warm and sunny weekend. it felt perfectly appropriate to read this one outside, and i would take moments to pause and appreciate the plants, trees and wildlife life around me, triggered by passages in jahren's book. i quite liked how jahren's structured this memoir, giving readers a glimpse at her life (her family of origin, her personal challenges as a female scientist and as a person with (view spoiler)[bipolar disorder (hide spoiler)], and her life with her husband, clint, and their son), her scientific work, and her work partnership with bill - also a scientist, who has worked with jahren's in every lab she's created. that all sounds like a lot for one not-so-very-long book, doesn't it? mostly, it flows well, and we get to visit some interesting places along the way, and meet some larger than life characters.
but i do think that because the book isn't even just a little bit chunkier, some depth and details were lost along the way, or minimized. (and i know this is not the main focus of the book, but it's an important part of who jahren's is: i really wanted more on her (view spoiler)[bipolar disorder - especially the time prior to onset and her early experiences, post-diagnosis. i sensed in her voice, very early in the book, that there was a franticness or very unsettled space within jahren's, so the revelation of her health issue wasn't a huge surprise - and offered more as a 'by the way...' moment. though i can imagine it would be tremendously difficult and uncomfortable to write about this (hide spoiler)].) so i think this is from where most of my issues are cropping. by nature memoirs are very personal, but i felt distanced while reading lab girl - not all the time, so that made for a bit of inconsistency.
but jahren's is a fascinating woman, and her work is interesting. i like knowing she's out there in the world doing her thing!
i find i am saying this a lot about my reads recently, but i am not quite sure how to review this book. (which i received from the good people at housi find i am saying this a lot about my reads recently, but i am not quite sure how to review this book. (which i received from the good people at house of anansi publishing in toronto - thank you!)
"Sometimes I wonder if people say someone writes "beautiful sentences" when they don't want to talk about how much they didn't like the book."
followed by :
"Once I had a friend read a draft & say "you can't write a bad sentence" and then make a case for why the book was still not very good."
"Still I have to wonder if "beautiful sentence" is the "bless your heart" of the literary world."
i am totally guilty of having said this in my reading life. i am pretty sure i said it recently. and while i was reading nadia bozak's novel, i was thinking it. for me... it often means i can appreciate a writer's skill and intention, but that the book didn't quite work for me. but i don't want to be mean or overly critical, because a work was strong enough that i would definitely read the author again, and everyone's tastes are so different when it comes to books. just because i wasn't WOWed, doesn't mean someone else won't be either. (if that makes sense? it makes sense in my own head. heh.)
bozak writes beautifully - some of her sentences are just wonderful. but it took me a good 122 pages to to feel any strong engagement with the story or characters. (i also had that MFA vs. non-MFA conversation going on in my head.) while bozak is sensitive and terrifically observational, the first ⅓ of the novel felt very surface to me. it's not a spoiler to say this, as it's noted right on the back cover, shell's parents separate when she's 12. and while mannerisms and interactions between the parents were mentioned, we aren't really given much about their relationship. though i realize this is shell's story, i would have liked just a bit more depth. the characters were not hugely open people - lots of guarding and protectiveness of themselves - which makes sense in the context of the story. but it made it tricky for me to find a way into a deeper attachment with the book earlier on.
by the end of the book, i had been won over and given a bit more 'meat', so to speak, from the story. i think bozak has a keen recall for the ups and downs of adolescence, and that came through in thirteen shells. it is also a contemplative or quiet book, and there is such a melancholic tone.
the flow of the book is a bit different, and i am not sure how to describe it. on the back cover, it says thirteen shells is a true-to-life novel-in-stories. i'm not sure it was quite so distinct to me, as one stage of shell's life moves into the next during the read, and so its structure is completely novel-like. but there were moments where it felt like vignettes of a life, so on those occasions, perhaps it was a bit more short story-like.
i am basically rambling at this point. sorry! :)
so - the book is interesting, bozak is a beautiful writer, and the character of shell, coming-of-age, is a wonderful addition to the CanLit world. my 'yeah buts...': i wish some of the threads came together just a bit more. and, i just wish i felt a bit more emotional about it all. (but perhaps that will come with a bit of distance from the read. i love when that happens!)
i found avenue of mysteries really entertaining, and sometimes that's all you need a book to be. it did take me probably 100 pages to3½-stars for now.
i found avenue of mysteries really entertaining, and sometimes that's all you need a book to be. it did take me probably 100 pages to feel invested in/interested in the story. in reading through a number of GR reviews for the book, after i finished my own reading, i noticed a lot of people quit or gave up on it, and felt frustrated or disappointed. i am very glad i stuck with it.
if you are a fan of john irving's much will feel familiar as he brings back many of his favourite recurring themes:
✔︎ fatherlessness ✔︎ prostitution ✔︎ religion ✔︎ writer ✔︎ teacher ✔︎ sex ✔︎ circuses ✔︎ LGTBQ ✔︎ life-changing accidents ✔︎ loss/grief ✔︎ dogs ✔︎ AIDS ✔︎ voice/vocalizing/speech/lack-thereof ✔︎ virgins/virginity ✔︎ lions have replaced bears this time ✔︎ travel - mexico & philippines this time ✔︎ miracles
irving is now 73yo, and there is a reminiscent quality to avenue of mysteries - something i noticed while reading, and then encountered in several reviews. there is also a whole lot of meta irving going on. our protagonist, juan diego, is a writer. he's 54yo, reflecting back on his life, and some of his past novels. which were, you know, really john irving novels.
irving is on record as not liking being asked if his writing is autobiographical. and i get that, i truly do. but i can't help but wonder why he so often draws the lens to the autobiographical? i am not one to insist his fiction is memoir. but i do think it's a wobbly line he tottering upon. but this is just an aside, triggered by he insertion of many of irving's past works in this new book (though under fictional titles).
an aspect of the story i quite enjoyed was the magical realism and religious miracles arcs. both require a suspension of disbelief, don't they? and irving is really not shy in tabling critical issues with the catholic church and religion in avenue of mysteries. that dr. vargas is a scientific, logical presence (and a bit blunt and curmudgeonly, at that) for many of the 'are they or aren't they?' miraculous occurrences was great! the supporting characters (which included dr. vargas) were, well, it was really quite a cast. they were quirky and odd, but very interesting.
moments in the novel were really, really funny to me. though my sense of humour is kind of weird. i was left, at the end of the book, feeling like there was a lovely kindness to this story.
this is a mess of rambling incoherence. apologies on that! i only finished the read about 90 minutes ago, so did want to capture some thoughts, but i have not really processed the whole read in my brain yet.
edited to add:
one aspect i forgot to mention: i found irving repetitive in the novel. and i don't mean the same themes appearing again. i mean points would be made and then they would be repeated again (and again.) i haven't settled on whether this was a reflection of the state of juan diego, or if it is a bit of editorial sloppiness??
so... this book is cute. but i can't decide if that's a good thing? at one point in the read the main character is taking comfort iprobably 2.5-stars.
so... this book is cute. but i can't decide if that's a good thing? at one point in the read the main character is taking comfort in a book that reminds her of the best meg ryan rom-com. and it's funny because right before reading that sentence, i had been thinking the book reminded me of a julia roberts rom-com. there's the adorably quirky young woman, complemented by a cast of equally quirky secondary characters. and, ultimately, love will be triumphant. set in a small iowa town, the reader's of broken wheel recommend is a bit like runaway bride meets you've got mail. i will admit that i find these movies cute and entertaining. but they don't require much of a viewer. and bivald's novel doesn't really require much of the reader. TRoBWR is targeted at book lovers. and if you are a book lover who dreams of owning their own bookstore, well you may very well enjoy love this one and, perhaps, have a bit of envy. bivald is definitely preaching to the choir with this novel. there are so many book references within - something i quite enjoyed for the most part, but it's a funny mix. (see below). though a few times spoiler-y info. about other books was lobbed out, so take note of that. (a bit surprised bivald would opt to do that, actually.)
so, it's a nice story. it served as a charming palate cleansing read for me. i wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a film, and if a series sprouts up with more novels following what happens next with the readers of broken wheel. for me, though, this isn't really a book that's going to stick with me.
books and authors mentioned in TRoBWR
quite a mix of books and authors... and though a long list, i don't even claim this to be all of the books or authors mentioned. yep. it was a lot.
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
What an interesting reading experience this book was for me. Mordecai's novel (her first one) is definitely a smart and accomplished work, though theWhat an interesting reading experience this book was for me. Mordecai's novel (her first one) is definitely a smart and accomplished work, though the themes are pretty heavy, and there are many layers within the story. Mordecai has had success as a poet, evidenced in her wonderful writing style - I definitely enjoyed how she played with language in Red Jacket and it was some impressive linguistic gymnastics, to be sure. Mordecai is a master!
I also really appreciate the lens she offers on such important social/societal issues like feminism, racism, religion, and health epidemics (HIV/AIDS in this book). I feel like this is required reading, a work that resonated with importance for me as I was working my way through it.
My only 'Yes, but...' with the novel is the ending - and I mean the very, very end of the book. Approaching the mid-way point of the book, and after a good long time with the main character of Grace Carpenter, the narrative shifted to two other characters, James and Mark. Initially it felt a bit awkward and clunky - it did end up coming together well. But the final page of the book just didn't work so well for me. (Actually, I had some 'Yes, but...' moments with Mark's wife, Mona, too.) But I do feel like this story and these characters will sit with me for a time. And I may even revisit the final chapter to give it more thought and closer consideration.
A finalist for the 2015 Writers' Trust of Canada Fiction Prize, this is the jury citation:
"Pamela Mordecai’s Red Jacket is a richly rewarding reading experience, a lyrical nod to the impossibility, and even wrongness, of reducing lives to chronology or to one or two crystalizing moments. Myriad points of view, a variety of englishes, and a wise and smartly handled fractured timeline are mined to unearth the powerful story of Grace Carpenter and to gather up and pay homage to the village that constitutes her community, at home and abroad. This book is more than a heartbreaking, beautiful story; it is also a bawdy meditation on storytelling and the art of writing. "
OB: Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?
PM: The book raises all kinds of questions, but the central one perhaps concerns the extent to which we are in charge of our own destiny. Do we direct our lives, or are we the victims of a fate handed to us, over which we have little control? Are our lives determined by where we are born, the circumstances of that birth, who our parents are, the quality of our education, the opportunities life offers us and so on? I wouldn’t say I had that question in my mind when I started. I had a vague idea that I wanted to put the female protagonist through the wringer, to see how she’d endure the battering, but I think the Big Question emerged in the writing.
oh how i adore elizabeth hay! i found this to be a wonderful novel - sensitive, wise and poetic. i enjoyed how hay juxtaposed the po4 ½-stars, really.
oh how i adore elizabeth hay! i found this to be a wonderful novel - sensitive, wise and poetic. i enjoyed how hay juxtaposed the potential fracturing of canada, through the quebec referendum of 1995, with the fracturing of family. it could come across as too ham-fisted, this contrast, but i feel hay did well with it. for me, even though the real life referendum outcome was known, the currents of anxiety hay created - would quebec separate? is nan's marriage over? can lulu and her brother, guy, ever reconcile? - were so good!! and i enjoyed the timing of this read in the context of our current political climate in canada. pierre trudeau is featured, and we have recently elected one of his sons, justin, as prime minister of canada. though our country is facing so many challenges, there is a feeling of hope tied to this new government that has been absent for a long time. (sorry for that wee tangent.)
covering 7 years, and split between cottage country of eastern ontario (not too far west of ottawa), and new york city, i felt hay did a great job with her time and settings; they were so vivid in their details and mood/feel. in this coming-of-age tale, the themes of identity and forgiveness are very strong. and if this novel works well for you it may leave you pondering many things about your own self or place within your family. "what's the worst thing you've done?" is the question posed by 10yo jim, to open the story. it's a question that arises again, and is explored often in the story. the characters are a contemplative lot with long memories. and i felt they were each well developed, save for blake. (whose storyline and character were really the only weakness for me in the book, and the reason for it not being a 5-star read.)
this is also a bookish novel: nan and jim are both big readers, and lulu is an actor. books and plays are mentioned and quoted throughout, and used as sources of comfort and escape - and i loved this!
overall - i really liked this book a lot. my in-person book club chose it for the january gathering, and it's a great choice for the many discussion topics it offers. though the book covers several years and the changing seasons, i think i would have loved to read this one in the summer... at the cottage. :)
aside, possibly spoiler-y:
there is a curiosity for me concerning animals in this novel. if you are a dog person, you may find a few scenes emotionally difficult (by the third occurrence, i let out some kind of audible 'OH NO!' which caused my husband to be worried about what i had just read in the book.). i am sure there is a deeper meaning going on, and the importance of a dog for a boy is conveyed a couple of times during the story. but, man! life is hard and reality sucks! bears, loons, otters, porcupines, fish, and a rumour of wolves feature too. most being the usual suspects in cottage country.
so... Etta and Otto and Russell and James. etta and otto. each an interesting character. as are russell and james. but it all felt so surface, like their lives were merely being skimmed. i don't need books to show me everything, or spell everything out. i like ambiguousness in fiction. but i just felt this read to be inconsistent and bumpy. there's a moment when otto is imagining etta and where she is on her walk or what may have happened to her. i feel understand the moment: when we are worried, our minds can think of the craziest things, when all we want is for our loved one(s) to be safe and fine. but on the page, this just didn't translate well. pulling the craziness out of the brain can be hard to represent when written out.
i finished the read last night, and when i closed the book, all i thought was 'well, that was so weird.' but not weird in a good way. just... weird. i am sorry about that. mostly i feel like a huge potential was missed with this novel.
OMG! i just wrote a giant open letter to joe perry and it did not save. GRRRRRRR!!!
will attempt to recreate it later.
so annoyed right now.
1) blanOMG! i just wrote a giant open letter to joe perry and it did not save. GRRRRRRR!!!
will attempt to recreate it later.
so annoyed right now.
1) bland and boring; 2) cowriter issue? bad choice? felt/sounded unauthentic - for example: " It was a magical time when the chaos of the noisy world was becalmed by a blanket of freshly fallen snow." seriously? how do i reconcile that sentence coming out of joe perry's mouth? 3) the ladies -- 'servicing the groupies' mentality of objectification, or opposed to 'misogynistic' attitudes? confusing! 4) punch steven tyler in the face, already! jaysus; 5) nothing new here; 6) wasn't looking for dirty little secrets or shenanigans...but was expecting something more soulful (and not 'magical time' in the snow blechness'); 7) no spark, no life in this book -- which is probably the total opposite to how things were.
this was such an enjoyable read - and a perfect book to read during the summer. i really liked being an armchair traveler with bly and bisland on theithis was such an enjoyable read - and a perfect book to read during the summer. i really liked being an armchair traveler with bly and bisland on their travels around the world. goodman did a great job presenting the race, and i appreciated that he also included historical context and sidebars on what was going on in the world in 1889 and 1890. as well, goodman provided brief looks at the women's lives post-race. i really did not know a lot about these women, or the race. even though i was aware of the outcome, goodman also did a great job building the suspense - who was going to win??? overall, this was a really well done examination of two interesting women who wanted to be treated as equal to men, not only in their professional careers as journalists, but in the broader sense of their lives in the world.
serious question: has a man ever been described as having 'pluck'?? this is the general consensus on bly (and bisland) - they were plucky. they had pluck! it kept reminding me of mary tyler moore - lou grant, in particular: "you've got spunk...i hate spunk!"
interesting to note that bisland worked for the cosmopolitan. during her tenure, it was quite a serious magazine that, apart for society pages, did thoughtful essays and investigative pieces. quite a stretch from the cosmo we are at today.
as well, women being portrayed in the media at this time (1889-1890) were also shown in regards to their appearance - their looks, clothing, demeanour, what was acceptable or unacceptable for them. and both bly and bisland endured some harsh and unfavourable criticisms sometimes because of how they looked (though both were popularly accepted as attractive women), and other times for how they conducted themselves. (unfair criticisms, to be sure. and bly received harsher judgements than bisland.) so we have been doing a disservice to women for a long, long time....more