Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Canada, by Richard Ford

CanadaCanada by Richard Ford
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Drawn by the title, and the author's pedigree, I came to the novel Canada as a Canadian, anticipating a story illuminating this vast and diverse country and people.

Instead, what I came upon was an author trying too hard, and unsuccessfully, to channel the likes of F. Scott FitzGerald or John Steinbeck, carrying with him a typically American ignorance of Canada, its people, its culture, its heritage.

The story revolves, endlessly, around a bank-robbing mother and father who, through their idiocy and sense of entitlement, leave their children, fraternal twins, barely into adolescence as orphans and essentially homeless.

The novel is full of implausibilities: the fact there are no social services to take charge of the children at the time of the arrest of the parents; the smuggling of the unreliable narrator into Canada to an alleged safe house; the robbery itself. The list is just too long to enumerate here.

The writing, although lauded by critics as a 'meticulous concern for the nuances of language', to this reader fell flat, lacklustre, without that alleged meticulous concern for the nuance of language. Frankly, it read as so much blah, blah, blah. In fact, the first third of the book is interminably expository, given little credence or gravitas by the nature of Ford's use of the unreliable narrator.

When we finally come to the denouement, we are treated to a moment out of an old Peggy Lee song, Is That All There Is? Which is followed quickly by a complete change of scenery and time, one cannot help but feel because the author ran out of steam.

The characters were so utterly cardboard as to be ridiculous.

And let us not even begin to speak of the gross misunderstanding of anything to do with Canada, let alone Saskatchewan. Frankly, upon consideration, I would recommend every Canadian to pick up this novel, particularly if you're from Saskatchewan, just to explode into laughter at how wrong this writer could envisage that oceanic, wildly free geography we know as the middle province of the Prairies.

Finally, good job, Richard Ford, by way of insulting every Canadian who might read this book by stating several times in the novel: Canadians are just like Americans, and, Canadians want to be just like Americans. Seriously?

Next time the author of Canada wishes to write with authority about a foreign country, I suggest he actually live in that country for a period of time, immerse himself in the culture and the people, then, and only then, he might begin to approach the subject matter with some authority. But, then, maybe not. Any author who can write with sublime confidence that Canadians are just like Americans plainly hasn't a clue and should stick to writing about his own culture.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Maskerade, by Terry Pratchett

Maskerade (Discworld, #18)Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pratchett remains a great story-teller, sweeping his readers away to a cleverly conceived world, populated by unlikely and believable characters.

In this installation, Pratchett writes a spoof on Andrew Lloyd Weber's international hit musical, Phantom of the Opera. Pratchett also takes on the superficiality of society, of the preoccupation with physical appearance, and the beauty of a noble spirit, all done with deliciously irreverent British humour.

A great escapist read.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Mercy Among the Children, by David Adams Richards

Mercy Among the ChildrenMercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Periodically there are books which come into our lives we choose to read not because they are guarantors of entertainment, escapism, pleasure, but because we are aware the writer has something to say, hopefully says it well, and the scent of which lingers in years to come like a primal memory, an underlying truth.

Such is the case with David Adams Richards' Giller Award winning novel, Mercy Among the Children.

Told through the unreliable narrator of Lyle Henderson, son of the main protagonist and chief underdog in the story, Sydney Henderson, Mercy Among the Children is an epic tale of hypocrisy and greed, of ignorance and poverty not only of economics but of morality. It is not a pleasant read. Nor is it an easy read. But it is gripping and needs to be read much in the way Steinbeck needs to be read, or Harper Lee, or any number of writers who have championed the cause of the disenfranchised and downtrodden.

Set in the Miramichi Valley of New Brunswick, Canada, this labyrinthine tale weaves through betrayals, robberies, murder, toxic waste of the soul and the environment, through generations of people held under the implacable autocracy of the company town. It is relentless in its brutality and sorrow. There are no happy endings in sight. And it resonates with an awful truth which simply cannot be ignored.

My only quibble is in the opening third of the novel the relentless barrage of misdeeds against the Henderson family teeters on the brink of the precious, so that at any moment I fully expected Dickens' Tiny Tim to make an appearance. Beyond that, there is a court scene which very much put me in mind of Harper Lee's now legendary court case in To Kill a Mockingbird, and the societal burden Steinbeck presented in The Grapes of Wrath

A recommended read which should be followed immediately by something mindless, hilarious and utterly frivolous, just for balance.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Why Men Lie, by Linden MacIntyre


Why Men LieWhy Men Lie by Linden MacIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last in MacIntyre's Cape Breton Trilogy, Why Men Lie completes the fallout from a brutal act in WWII which has haunted the men involved and their families.

In this novel MacIntyre visits the character of Effie Gillis, who lived in silent fear for years, and now as a middle-aged woman attempts to reconcile that past and her own visceral, instinctive reactions to any trigger which might be construed as related.

While it is a story about latent violence both of the spirit and the body, it is also a story of quiet hope, one without blazing moments of epiphany, but rather of muted understanding.

Ultimately a very Canadian novel from a very Canadian writer.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: The Long Stretch, by Linden MacIntyre


The Long StretchThe Long Stretch by Linden MacIntyre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first of MacIntyre's award-winning Cape Breton trilogy, The Long Stretch is a beautifully crafted illustration of the axiom: the sins of the parent shall fall upon the children.

The narrative, set on Cape Breton Island, reveals the mystery and horror of one brutal act during WWII, and how the men involved in that crime attempt to retain some semblance of normalcy for themselves and their families in the years which follow.

Written in a staccato style of stuttering sentence fragments, MacIntyre creates a story of tension, pain and ultimately of love without recourse to graphic descriptions and hysteria-blown scenes. A master work of literature from a master Canadian journalist.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Emperor's Soul, by Brandon Sanderson


The Emperor's SoulThe Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sanderson was recommended to me as a genre author worth reading. I'm not sorry I followed up on that recommendation.

The Emperor's Soul presents an intriguing story of a forger who is able to create reproductions through magical carving of seals, inscribed with the history and detail of the object and its maker. In fact, she is so good at her art she is employed by the Emperor's most trusted advisers to create a seal which will return the Emperor to himself after a botched assassination.

Rich with character studies, environmental detail and intrigue, this is an engaging bit of escapism.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 12, 2014

Review: Touch, by Alexi Zentner


TouchTouch by Alexi Zentner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zentner presents a fascinating, historical story of hardship, endurance and superstition set in the British Columbia/Yukon interior around the late 19th century. The characters are well-defined, the environmental descriptions vivid, the plot intriguing.

Memorable, readable, recommended.

View all my reviews