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The Double Hook

3.2  ·  Rating details ·  525 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
In spare, allusive prose, Sheila Watson charts the destiny of a small, tightly knit community nestled in the BC Interior. Here, among the hills of Cariboo country, men and women are caught upon the double hook of existence, unaware that the flight from danger and the search for glory are both part of the same journey. In Watson’s compelling novel, cruelty and kindness, bet ...more
Paperback, 136 pages
Published March 1st 1989 by New Canadian Library (first published 1959)
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Alex Kennard
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First things first—The Double Hook by Sheila Watson is my favourite Canadian novel. I'm sure this fact would horrify her; The Double Hook is supposed to be a book without region. & yet, it is distinctly Canadian, & further distinctly rooted in the forests of British Columbia.

The Double Hook circles endlessly around the shifting lives of the residents of a small town. The characters are painted in sparse language and develop slowly, becoming more realised as the plot progresses. But they
Shawn Mooney
Sep 27, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Meh. I vaguely remember liking this 1959 novel a lot when I first encountered it in university back in the 80s. This, my much-anticipated re-read, didn't go well. A little too biblical, lyrical, and spare for my tastes, like some old story about the wrath of God being shouted at me underwater by a drunk poet. Bailed a quarter of the way in.
May 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-lit
After examining a manuscript copy of The Double Hook, Frederick M. Saltzer—a literature professor at the University of Alberta—cautioned Sheila Watson that readers tend to "gallop" through works of fiction, and that her novella thereby courted both "bewilderment" and "frustration."

It's an apt warning. For to the ire of hurried readers everywhere, The Double Hook doesn't tell a story so much as it suggests one. Writing in sparse and muscular prose, Watson doles out narrative facts and description
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
A strange and spare narrative, set in the Cariboo country of British Columbia, but if you didn't know that from the flyleaf you'd never be able to figure it out from the story. The story lines are full of foreboding, of violence, of loneliness, and yet the story ends with a birth and some measure of hope, but not until the reader has traversed a psychological landscape dotted with an apparent matricide, a self-immolation, a blinding, some bed-hopping, and a ghost that loves fishing. I've probabl ...more
Juanita De
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautiful, poetic language creating a surreal, dark but redemptive dream.
Jeff D.
Nov 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The finest Canadian novel ever written. Period. I'm tempted to go back and change every other book I've reviewed to four stars just so this one stands out.
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(view spoiler) ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Hannah recommended this after I raved about Death Comes for the Archbishop. And of course Paper Hound had it, face out, when I went there later in the week. And well recommended! I had to read it twice, straight through. The style is so minimal and sparse, so much is unsaid, that after reading it quickly (because the plot) the first time, I wanted to savour it a bit more, so I went right back to page 1. I don't know enough about literature to properly comment on this book -- I know it' ...more
Mark Lisac
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, the writing is terse to the point of being truncated. Yes, it reads like modernist art. Yes, you may be halfway through before you figure out what's going on. And yes, the canvas is so small and the story so intensely focused that the book could be thought of as eligible for a maximum four stars simply because of its limited scope.
Yet it remains a monumental achievement — a foundation of modern Canadian literature written and published at a time when some universities (including the one whe
Ann Diamond
May 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
Someone just gave me a copy of the first paperback M&S edition (copyright 1959) and, feeling guilty for not having read this Canadian classic decades ago, I started it last night. I'm rating my "enjoyment level" although I'm only on page 30 and already frustrated by the spareness of the story, way too narrow and controlled for my taste.

I've lived in the Cariboo and just found out (from other reviewers here) that The Double Hook is set in Cariboo country. Really, it's the sort of thing I'd l
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We read The Double Hook for one of my English classes, and it's definitely an interesting story. It's not told in a conventional way, and even the story itself is quite unconventional. To be honest, I'm pretty sure I didn't understand half of what was going on, but I did find it to be an intriguing story. One that I hope to reread one day, and maybe understand a little better...we haven't gone over it in class yet, so maybe it'll start to become even clearer then. Either way, I thought that it w ...more
Yvonne Blackwood
The title, The Double Hook, a quotation from the text helps to understand it—“…you can’t catch glory on a hook and hold on to it…when you fish for glory you catch the darkness too.” Infused with poetry and prose, and indigenous legend, Sheila Watson’s book is set in British Columbia in caribou country, and involves a mother, two sons, a daughter, and a daughter-in-law along with a few neighbours. There is no defined protagonist, and the characters are not well developed. Laced with spirituality, ...more
Kristine Morris
Feb 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadian
This is a Canadian Classic, but I had never heard of it until a few years ago when it appeared on CBC's 100 Novels That Make You Proud to be Canadian. The reviews indicate that people either love it or hate it. It you are used to contemporary writing, I'd see that you might have trouble with this novel, but it's not long, just over 80 pages and I'd say stick with it. I haven't read much John Steinbeck but it reminded me of his writing. Sparse and tense - a lot of reading between the lines to mak ...more
Sep 14, 2016 rated it liked it
all we get is a gimpse of the story and the characters who inhabit this short novella. they are never fully brought into focus; rather their lives can only be interpreted through inference. 'modernism' in Canadian lit took a while to get going (1950s?) and Sheila Watson's 'Double Hook' is a preeminent work that shares many stylistic characteristics with this movement such as ambiguity, fragmentation, lack of characterization and plot, which reminds me of a mix between william faulkner, virginia ...more
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-book
Who would have thought that such a short book would bring such an emotional reaction to me? I was expecting it to be such, but never did I think I would be moved the way I was. I admit that it took me a few chapters to get into the story, and even getting used to the way the author writes (reminds me of Jose Saramago style), but once you get into the swing of things the story flows beautifully. It was not an easy read, you really need to pay attention to what going on, at times I had to re-read ...more
Elsa Paterson
Jan 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't figure this book out at all. It was a painful read on every page. I hoped it would make sense to me at some point, but it never did. At first I thought maybe it would be good to study this with someone who understands it; however, by the end of it I didn't care.
Aug 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
Challenging. Demands a more thorough reading next time.
Dec 08, 2012 rated it did not like it
Involves a lot of vague talking that turns out to be about...not much...
Jun 20, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-readings
Not an easy read. Quite disturbing.
Nancy Wilson
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian-author
beautifully written was like reading and putting a puzzle together
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange novel. Short, at 125 pages, spare, and a tight rural setting and small cast of characters. I came across it while reading Nick Mount's "Arrival: The Story of CanLit". It is one of the first of the "CanLit" era novels. Published in 1959, it seems set in the 1920s or 30s; most characters ride horses or wagons, but there is an off-stage car for mail delivery. Mount calls it a western, which it can be seen as, as it is set in BC's Cariboo country, and reads like a western settlers' st ...more
Zena V. (zombie bat)
Canadian literary fiction.... Poetic, strange, unnerving, confusing. Definitely interesting, but I need to do research to figure out what it means :P
Apr 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: canlit, 2016
Reading this had much the same feel for me as reading Cormac McCarthy, and not just because of the irritating "literary" habit of conveying direct dialogue without quotation marks (a habit that puts the reader through a lot of extra work of comprehension without any sort of benefits, most of the time). It's spare to the point of being laconic, leaves a lot of plot & emotional gaps for you to fill in, and is set in a very unforgiving landscape that echoes the apparent aridity of the character ...more
Nicola Mansfield
Jun 17, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the most incomprehensible book I've ever read. Short blurbs skipping all over about perhaps a dozen people in a rural setting. It never tells you what's happening, you have to infer it. I figure an old lady dies, perhaps her daughter and son killed her. The son runs away, beats up another man so bad he goes blind. The daughter sets the house on fire killing herself. Towards the end, we figure out a character called "the girl" is about to give birth. Now I'm going to read the "Afterword" ...more
Nancy Gillies
Jan 27, 2016 rated it it was ok
For such a short book, this one definitely delivered a high frustration level. For the first seventy or so pages, I regularly had to check back to the first page to remind myself how the characters were connected. Which were siblings? Which were married? I still don't know who Kip is to anybody else. A little context or description would have gone a long way. There's an underlying tension that keeps things interesting, but the language is too obfuscated for me. Here's an example: "You don't have ...more
Jan 04, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
A painfully self-aware, artistic poseur of a novel. Any would-be torturers out there can skip the hot pokers and just make me re-read this, over and over.*
It wound up being the symbol for "here's everything wrong with literary pretentions" in my MA thesis, hence the many reads.
For the record, Sheila, art does not in and of itself turn we violent, illiterate, backwoods, mouth-breathing yokels from Interior B.C. into modern, well-rounded humans. Ta!
*P.P.S. Yes, that is what happened at the U o
Everything I've read about this book said it was "sparse". That's a perfect description. It's so sparse it's difficult to figure out who is who and what their relationships are and what exactly is going on. For me, it made reading it seem a little pointless. I couldn't really get emotionally invested. However, I did appreciate the language of it and the kind of surrealism, calling to mind something like One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: canadia, 2012
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this novel(la). It's one of those books that doesn't make any sense until about halfway through when the disconnected dialogue and seemingly random events come together. But I'm not sure if it was confusing because I'm incompetent or because I just wasn't paying attention. Nonetheless, once it did start making sense it became pretty enjoyable and it leaves you with enough mystery and clues to warrant a retreading or two. Which is definitely the way to do it ...more
Anne Marie
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I love this book, I concede it is far from for everyone. It is formally interesting as an extreme work of minimalism (so far as prose goes). What I find interesting about this book is that despite the minimalism Watson was experimenting with the characters and the plot are both engaging. The minimalism also makes it denser at the same time that the words themselves are sparser and in that sense it is rather like a lot of contemporary poetry.
Desi Valentine
Apr 27, 2015 rated it liked it
It's a hell of an experiment, ballsy for its time and particularly relevant to the continual regional vs. international tension that mark Canadian writing and publishing. The Double Hook is hyper-regional, a macro-shot of a slice of hillside and a droplet of creek water, trimmed so each pore on each leaf segment is individually enhanced, relevant and unique. Astounding skill here. I'll have to think on it awhile.
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Goodreads Librari...: Please add book cover 3 19 Feb 02, 2014 08:54PM  
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Born Sheila Martin Doherty, she grew up on the grounds of the provincial mental hospital where her father, Dr. Charles Edward Doherty, was the superintendent until his death in 1922. After studying at Vancouver's Convent of the Sacred Heart, Sheila Doherty finished her university studies at the University of British Columbia in 1933. She then worked as an elementary and high school teacher through ...more
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