polutropos_1

Reviews
More
The Boys in the Trees

by

The Boys in the Trees was nominated for the Giller Prize, Canada's most prestigious literary prize, and my "real life" reading group is going through all the Giller-nominated novels. I could not be any more impressed than I was by this book. On the most obvious level the book is the story of grisly murders committed in the late 1800s in a small Canadian town. The bare facts are not in question: there were murders and there was an execution. It is the ripples leading up to the murders and the execution and their effects on the various characters’ actions and thoughts that form the real story. Its subtlety necessitates rereading and reexamination. It is structurally complex, being non-linear. The numerous characters whose lives we glimpse are not immediately connected to each other. Its central image is that of a photograph with a very long exposure which has captured stationary objects but moving ones leave at most faint shadows or ghostly traces of themselves. The significance, or lack thereof, of the characters’ actions or thoughts upon the lives of others is reflected through this image. In a key conversation, when the man who as a boy was profoundly affected by these events is retelling them, he is called “You poor thing” and “he started to say, Not me, it wasn’t about me, but he realized it probably was. Wasn’t everything in the end?” (163). A wonderful, sad, wise book.
The Delicate Storm

by

Having enjoyed Forty Words for Sorrow some years ago, I looked forward to The Delicate Storm. Unfortunately it is talky, slow, long-winded and silly. While Cardinal is an appealing character and some of the relationships are interesting, the basic plotline needs much pruning. Not recommended.
Straight Man: A Novel

by

A wonderful book. I laughed out loud repeatedly throughout the first half, and in the second half became more and more convinced by the universality of Hank's suffering. It is a wise book about much more than university campus shenanigans. It is about sons and mothers, sons and fathers, the nature of friendship, about who we really are and what we really stand for, about honour under fire. Here is a wonderful mother-son scene:“The afternoon my mother crept noiselessly down the cellar stairs instead of calling to me as she usually did, I had taken a coil of rope, climbed onto a chair, and tied a knot onto one of the pipes that formed a complex grid running along the ceiling of the cellar. The moment before I turned around and saw her, I had been testing the rope by yanking on it with both hands, to see if the knot would stay tied, if the pipe would hold my weight. To another kid I would have looked like I was about to swing, Tarzan-like, from one imaginary tree to another, but at the moment our eyes met, I knew this was not the conclusion my mother had come to, and I let loose an explosion of violent grief I had not known until that very moment I possessed. How did I get from the chair I was standing on and into her arms? How did I know to go there, know that she would not be angry? There was no way to explain to my mother what I didn’t fully comprehend myself – that I didn’t want my life to end, rather just to know that the pipe would hold me if I needed it to later, if things got worse, if they became unbearable. (322)Another of my favourite scenes involves his father, guilt, and Dickens. And there are so many wonderful scenes. I have a moratorium on book-buying. This book. overcame it. A library copy is not enough. I bought it.
Night of Thunder: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel

by

Masterful. Hunter continues at the top of his game. One of the greats, showing how it is done.
Late Nights on Air: A Novel

by

An odd, frustrating, exhilarating, life-affirming, low-key, thoughtful book. It won the Giller Prize and comes recommended with comparisons to Annie Proulx and Alice Munro. Yet too many times I was considering not finishing it, and some when I felt like throwing it across the room. Hay is masterful at creating the atmosphere of the Far North – Yellowknife and the northern barrens. Her portrayal of life in a radio station in 1975 also rings true. However, throughout the first two thirds of the 360-page book I found the central characters unlikable and difficult to care about. The key passage of the book, when the four take a six-week canoeing trip in the northern isolation had me howling, “What a waste,” foreseeing the inevitable end to their trek. But there are also many lovely images and passages. Towards the end of the book a grey, gaunt mangy fox is captured by animal control officers and we are told “the fox had seemed magical to her. A creature from one world passing through another. But he didn’t make it.” Each of the characters can be seen as working on passing through one world to another, usually not making it. The inevitable sadness of relationships is central, with people misunderstanding, missing out, looking the wrong way, “since isn’t it the hardest lesson in the world, learning to appreciate people if you’ve never felt appreciated?” The real life hero of the novel is Justice Thomas Berger who was commissioned by the Canadian government to examine the implications of building a pipeline through the north. Berger, contrary to all cynical expectations of the power of big money and influence, spent three years truly listening to all, going from native village to village, compiled 40,000 pages of testimony, and recommended “no pipeline now, and no pipeline across northern Yukon ever.” It is against the background of Berger’s quiet decency and eventual heroic stand that the plot of the novel unfolds, with lives marked by indecision, lacking ardent drama. The low-key characters seem for much of it plodding and anemic. In the end, though, there are rewards for the reader; the conclusion is quietly satisfying, supporting a reluctant recommendation.
Mr. Palomar

by

Mr. Palomar is not a conventional novel but rather a collection of sketches in which we see him on vacation, wandering through the city, visiting the zoo, shopping, meditating. Mr. Palomar is a reflective man, a man given to pondering, to tasks such as examining a wave and wondering if by truly capturing its essence, the world’s complexity can be reduced. He ponders time and illusion. He wishes to cancel his doubting ego in the certitude of a principle. Does he exist? Would the world exist without him? He is overcome by reverence for minute miracles. In a cheese shop he recognizes that it is not a matter of choosing the right cheese, but of being chosen. He tries to improve his relations with the universe and finds the universe “twisted, restless as he is.” He thinks. Finally he “decides that he will set himself to describing every instant of his life, and until he has described them all he will no longer think of being dead. At that moment he dies.” The book is airy and heavy. It is humorous and depressing. It shows joy and the deepest despair. It gives answers which slip, like smoke, through the fingers.It bears much reexamination and rereading. It is masterful.
The Golden Mean

by

This book had so much promise! Written from the point of view of Aristotle, dealing with war, intrigue and philosophy, and a cast of characters including Alexander the Great, how can you possibly go wrong? And yet...I was carried along by the story to about the halfway point when I started trying to put my finger on why I was not enjoying it more. Finally, it came to me. Annabel Lyon pulls off what seems to be impossible: she makes the lives of Aristotle and Alexander the Great dull. The little bits of Aristotle's thought we are given are dull. The battles we see, the history they are supposedly living, all are dull. Lyon lacks imagination or the skill to deal with the material. I have ordered the trilogy dealing with Alexander the Great written by Mary Renault. Those, I am sure, will be the antidote to this most disappointing book.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

by

Wonderful novel full of quiet charm, humour, and ultimately wisdom. An examination of the impossible, and the role of belief. Most highly recommended.
Barnacle Love

by

Barnacle Love is totally telly, as in this wonderful piece of prose from the beginning. "Manuel vowed that somehow he would make it all better. Freedom would provide opportunities for his siblings. But first he would have to save himself." None of the characters are believable. The plotline is not only predictable but laughable. No suspense anywhere. Zero redeeming features. I began skimming after about three pages and still the hour or so spent with it would have been better spent petting the cat. A total disaster. Shortlisted for the Giller Prize. Zero stars from me.
The Bull from the Sea: A Novel

by

For sweeping glorious romance of the highest calibre there is none greater than The Bull from the Sea. The story of Theseus, the great Athenian, famed for his bringing together the Greeks under his rule, encompasses great love, sacrifice, betrayal, hatred and revenge. Like the great Greek plays it shows the lives of a hero, driven by fate, through great love to great misery. Theseus, Pirithoos, Hippolyta, Hippolytos, Akamas and Phaedra are all drawn masterfully, becoming unforgettable characters in a great drama. Spectacular story carefully crafted into a pageturner by Mary Renault. The highest recommendation.
scribd