Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What Is Left the Daughter” as Want to Read:
What Is Left the Daughter
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What Is Left the Daughter

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  2,649 ratings  ·  499 reviews
Seventeen-year-old Wyatt Hillyer is suddenly orphaned when his parents commit suicide, causing him to move to a small-town, and setting in motion the novel's chain of life-altering passions, including the fathering of a beloved daughter.

Howard Norman, widely regarded as one of this country's finest novelists, returns to the mesmerizing fictional terrain of his major books-
Hardcover, 243 pages
Published July 6th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 2010)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What Is Left the Daughter, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What Is Left the Daughter

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,649 ratings  ·  499 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What Is Left the Daughter
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was so good! Loved the protagonist Wyatt, the Nova Scotia setting at the start of WWII, the ugliness of prejuduce (against Germans) depicted, the U-boat attacks, the small town feeling similar to what you find in a Richard Russo novel-- everything. Bronson Pinchot narrated and he was just perfect. He is really very talented with his accents and characterizations.

I was all set to give this 5 stars but the last couple of chapters sort of fell flat for me. Even the narrator seemed less en
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Disclaimer: I love all of Howard Norman's work. "The Bird Artist" is one of my favorite books, and I've loved his others too.

Like all of his books, "What Is Left the Daughter" is beautifully written. It's a book full of incredibly rich dualities and symbolism, yet I'm sure it could be just as effective read by someone who chooses not to analyse it.

Written as a letter from an older Wyatt Hillyer to his 21-year-old daughter, the book opens with the suicides of both of Wyatt's parents, who jump fro
Oh! This is one of the best things I've read. Beautifully written, one of those quietly powerful stories--I don't ever want to forget it. I underlined lots of fragments and made notes on the back pages, just a list of details that I want to stay with me.
There's lots of classical music referred to and since that's not my genre, I would find the piece on the internet and play it alongside my reading. That's fun (and educational!). I always thought the title of this novel was pretty and intriguing.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
... some ancient parable or other in which an elderly woman listens to her son hold forth about how much heartbreak, sour luck and spiritual depletion can be packed into a life. But talk as he might, the man from the parable fails to address the one thing his mother is most curious about. "What of your daughter?" she asks. "Have you seen her? How is her life? Do not doubt that wonderment may be found when you find her again." Turns out, the man hasn't seen his own daughter in ages. "Rain, wind,
Howard Norman's What Is Left the Daughter is structured as a long letter written by Wyatt Hillyer to his daughter Marlais for her 21st birthday in 1967. Wyatt's letter is a confession why he has consciously chosen to not have contact with her, and an account of his life and the events leading up to her birth.

Orphaned at the tender age of 19 when both of his parents committed suicide by jumping off the same bridge, Wyatt had to move away from the big town of Halifax to the small village of Middle
Jul 27, 2010 rated it it was ok
What is Left the Daughter is one, long letter written by Wyatt Hillyer to his daughter Marlais. He writes because "I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you." The story begins with his parents double suicide over their love for the same woman. It goes downhill from there.

I expect grief and horror from a book set during the war, but usually that is accompanied by great human courage and sacrifice. This story seemed to be all senseless acts of violence and grief infli
Misha Mathew
Nov 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
When I started reading the book, I was so sure it would be a 5 star read . But by the time, I had reached the middle, it became a little dull at parts.Don't get me wrong! This is still an amazing novel, just not as great as I expected.

This book is written in the form of Wyatt, the narrator's letter to his daughter - a sort of confession.
Wyatt is someone I sympathized a lot with. His parents' double suicide changed his life forever. What I really admired was Wyatt admitted to all his mistakes and
Apr 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Wyatt Hillyer's parents both jumped off two separate bridges on the same night, leaving him alone and orphaned. He goes to live with his Aunt, Uncle, and adopted cousin Tilda, who becomes the love of his life.

Set during WWII in Middle Economy, Canada, we have another perspective of this time period. Anger and uncertainty towards Germans and living by the side of a radio, waiting and listening for any news of the war.

I listened to this on audiobook, and I have to say the narrator was amazing! He
Diane S ☔
Apr 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Probably more like 2.5. This novel should have had much going for it, it starts with two suicides, there is murder, a ferry sunk by a u-boat and another death, and adultery, but there is just a depth of emotion missing in it that really bothered me. The writing was fine, the book was relatively easy to read, but the first person narrative just left me cold. It is hard to become invested in a novel, when one doesn't really feel like they know the characters in this almost emotionless novel.
Ron Charles
Jun 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Nobody screams in Howard Norman's new novel, although they should. This Washington writer maintains such a measured tone that his story seems shocking only in retrospect. At the time, you lean in, trying to catch every word, lulled by his voice as he describes the most ordinary lives that just happen to be punctuated by macabre accidents and bizarre acts of violence.

Everything in "What Is Left the Daughter" sounds smothered in regret, worn smooth in the closet of a man's guilty conscience. It's
Nov 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
So if we’ve spent any time together you’ll know that I (occasionally) refer to the book I’m currently reading as “the best book ever.” I recognize I have a problem with hyperbole; I’m conscious of my excesses (most of the time). And so it happens once again that of late I’ve been talking up a novel as perfect and exquisite, in this case, Howard Norman’s What is Left the Daughter. But then! Circumstances conspired such that I boarded a bus, finished the last three pages of the novel, and had an e ...more
Lydia Presley
Aug 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In a letter to his daughter, Marlais, Wyatt Hillyer begins with the following line:

"I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you."

And I was drug, hook, line and sinker, into the story as told by the man himself in a 200+ page letter to his daughter.

Wyatt Hillyer's life is a jumbled mess of tragedy - from the double-suicide of his parents to the loss of his one love during a time when Germans in Nova Scotia, even the innocent ones, are scorned and treated horribly.

Jul 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Howard Norman, one of America's premier novelists, has written a tour de force with WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER. Toward the end of the novel, the narrator quotes the phonograph record liner notes for Casals' performance of Bach's unaccompanied cello suites, "Casals succeeds in not allowing a single note of compromised sadness." The same could be said for Howard Norman in this haunting and deeply moving novel, written as a confession (apology, in the classic sense) from an aging father to his daugh ...more
Aug 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
I was very unimpressed. I expected a lot of emotion from a book set during the war, included 2 suicides, infidelity, murder and more death. I had a very hard time with Wyatt Hillyer. Wyatt is such a bystander (loser) in his own life. I just could not empathize with him from the very start when he did not show complete devestation from the loss of both his parents. I would have preferred a storyline including more depth into his parents. I love Canada, but the war issues just seemed to go on and ...more
Katie Marquette
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like all of Howard Norman's fiction, this book left me feeling delightfully melancholy. Norman is such an expert at tone and atmosphere. The gray, wind-swept fishing villages of Nova Scotia are perfect for these stories of lost love, death, crimes, delayed punishment, and existential confusion. I've noticed a trend now that I've read quite a few Norman novels, and it's that our narrator is normally a shockingly passive man. Strange events, and sometimes unspeakable actions, seem to simply happen ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it
(3.5) I really liked the Nova-Scotia-in-during-World-War-II setting and the eccentric characters of Aunt Constance and Cornelia, though some parts dragged a bit. There were also really sad parallels between the war climate then and the bigoted political climate in the U.S. now.
A father writes a letter to his daughter whom he has not seen since she was two. It is his story to her of her family, their tragedies, and their love for one another. Set against the U-Boat war fought around Nova Scotia, Norman provides a unique look at life on the home front during the Atlantic War. The sinking of a civilian ferry will bring shattering changes to the small town of Middle Economy, Nova Scotia and the family at the heart of Norman's story. Norman's use of the epistolary style qu ...more
Barbara H
May 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Although this story purportedly relates to WW II, in many ways that is only tangential. A young man's parents commit suicide within hours of each other by jumping from separate bridges. He is left to cope with this horrifying situation and goes to live with an aunt and uncle. His continuing existence is thus spelled out with letters he writes later to his daughter.

The novel is told in a gentle, frequently subdued manner, yet it contains many stirring and profound moments. The main character, Wya
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that requires some readers' discipline to keep reading because although the writing is beautiful, the action is basically an accumulation of prosaic details, and the characters are, let's say, odd and detached (easy to care about but hard to truly understand). But then you reach the end! And, against all reason, you award What Is Left the Daughter a bunch of stars in an attempt to encourage other readers to JUST KEEP READING because the writing, the prosaic details, an ...more
Yes, I liked it, but I doubt if it leaves any lasting impression. I did learn a bit about Canadian German submarine warfare off the coast of Nova Scotia during WW2. This story is a letter of love and explanation from father to daughter. The daughter did not grow up with the father. The family situation is a puzzle that is unraveled so his daughter will better understand. Perfect narration by Bronson Pinchot. It sounds exactly as if the father were reading a letter he has written to his own daugh ...more
Jul 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
As a librarian I heartily approve of this book. Sex in the library...even! Good exploration of how people become educated about the importance of kindness and human decency. The madness of war and how it makes folks of limited intelligence and experience react badly toward individuals they have lumped together as "the enemy."
Oct 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Kathleen
In just 243 pages, Howard Norman has told a very complete, satisfying, entertaining story. Easily in my top 10 for this year.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a well paced and interesting story. There is quite a bit of drama and emotional turmoil, but the way the story is told makes it easier to digest. I really enjoyed this take on the family saga genre.

There's a part of me that wishes it had ended in a more "wrapped up" way, but I think the unresolved nature of the ending actually rings true to life.
Apr 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Wyatt Hillyer is a magnet for tragedy. When he is a teenager, his parents commit suicide on the same day, driven to such extremes by their mutual romantic entanglements with a neighbor. This is only the first of a string of personal tragedies to befall him over the next several years.

What Is Left the Daughter (a title referencing the concept of inheritance) is an epistolary novel, written by a father to his daughter. It chronicles World War II Canada, zeroing in on the anti-German sentiment tha
Ally Armistead
Mar 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A truly beautiful novel: nuanced, layered, and a freshness with the age-old epistolary form.

This is the first novel I've read by Howard Norman, two-time National Book Award winner, and from his precise and snappy prose, I can see why he's world-renowned.

In "Daughter," our first-person narrator is Wyatt, who begins a letter to his estranged daughter with the most poignant of lines: "I refuse any longer to have my life defined by what I haven't told you."

What unfolds over the course of 240 pages
Feb 10, 2011 added it
Shelves: 2011
Borrowed from Dave's Mom at her recommendation.

Initially, I was not smitten with this book. Now that I have finished it, I would like to read more by Howard Norman. His characters are well drawn and true to life. I learned new things about Halifax Harbour and built on what I already new about rural Nova Scotia life in the mid 20th century.

I found only one thing jarring in the whole thing -- the central characters mentions that he spends "Canadian Thanksgiving and Christmas" with his friends. Did
What is Left the Daughter is one of those books I bought during my earlier buying sprees (2010) and never got around to reading. The dust jacket has beautiful artwork and I really like the title (although I want to put a question mark at the end of it). So I pulled it from the shelf a few weeks ago thinking I would give it a go. Unfortunately, I'm bored. Bored, bored, bored.

This book is written as one long letter to the narrator's daughter, explaining to her basically the story of her parents'
Apr 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a strange read for me. I picked up a copy based solely on the title, which is weird, and so I didn't have any pre-concieved notions about the content... which may have been good or may have been bad.

I didn't especially like reading it. For instance, I didn't hop into bed ready to read like I do with most books, but once I was reading, I couldn't put it down! I felt the style of storytelling was somewhat slow, but I usually feel like that in first person narrative, so maybe that's just
Wyatt Hillyer has written a letter to his estranged daughter revealing his tragic past, secrets, and ultimately his love for his daughter and her mother. Set in Nova Scotia, the remoteness of the area is felt in the isolation of Wyatt's character. Tragedy and tension always seem to be brooding in the atmosphere. WWII, the threat of U-boats, the sinking of the Caribou all contribute to the dark emotions, which eventually change Wyatt's life forever.

The dark tone of Wyatt's life could at times fe
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book caught my eye simply because of the title.
I had to stop and say it over a few times in my head just to have it make sense.
I liked that it tripped me up me so much, that I checked it out with out even looking
to see what it was about.

In my experience, chosing a book in such a fashion
will lead to disappointment more often that not.
What a wonderful surprise to find out that was NOT the case with this book

This story is presented in the form of a letter, with one ofthe opening lines to
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
  • The Beet Queen
  • We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence
  • Tracks
  • The Master Butchers Singing Club
  • Mayflower: The Voyage From Hell
  • Opium and Absinthe
  • Doc
  • A Cold Trail (Tracy Crosswhite, #7)
  • What She Left
  • After Earth
  • Endymion Spring
  • The Lost Years
  • From the Ashes
  • The Good House
  • Love Medicine
  • Stranger in the Lake
  • Who I Am
See similar books…
Howard A. Norman (born 1949), is an American award-winning writer and educator. Most of his short stories and novels are set in Canada's Maritime Provinces. He has written several translations of Algonquin, Cree, Eskimo, and Inuit folklore. His books have been translated into 12 languages.

Related Articles

From independent presses, to tales in translation, to critical darlings and new debut novels, these books (all published in the U.S. this year)...
57 likes · 12 comments
“In The Highland Book of Platitudes, Marlais, there's an entry that reads, "Not all ghosts earn our memory in equal measure." I think about this sometimes. I think especially about the word "earn," because it implies an ongoing willful effort on the part of the dead, so that if you believe the platitude, you have to believe in the afterlife, don't you? Following that line of thought, there seem to be certain people—call them ghosts—with the ability to insinuate themselves into your life with more belligerence and exactitude than others—it's their employment and expertise.” 4 likes
More quotes…