Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
Filed under: Book Reviews,Goveror General's Literary Award — Ibis at 6:53 pm on Thursday, March 20, 2008

From the dust jacket:
“In the 1970s in northern California, near Gold Rush country, a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is riven by an incident of violence — of both hand and heart — that sets fire to the rest of their lives.

Divisadero takes us from the city of San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos, and eventually to the landscape of south central France. It is here, outside a small rural village, that Anna becomes immersed in the life and the world of a writer from an earlier time — Lucien Segura. His compelling story, which has its beginnings at the turn of the century, circles around “the raw truth” of Anna’s own life, the one she’s left behind but can never truly leave. And as the narrative moves back and forth in time and place, we discover each of the characters managing to find some foothold in a present rough-hewn from the past.”

Other useful links:
the not-so-useful Wikipedia article on Divisadero
the Wikipedia article on Michael Ondaatje

My thoughts:
I was looking forward to reading this because it was my first Ondaatje book. I also thought the sound of the title was intriguing – a kind of combination of division and desidero (that’s “I desire” in Latin). Only later did I discover that is is the name of a street in San Francisco.

It’s been a while since I finished this book (I’m catching up, I promise!) so my memory of it is a little fragmented. In fact, this book is itself fragmented: various points of view, two completely different sets of characters, unresolved conflicts… All of which left me unsatisfied. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters of the first story, and the whole ‘professional gambler’ thing didn’t grab me. I liked the second story much better and I think I’d have liked a book just about that much much better.

I did enjoy Ondaatje’s writing though, and look forward to reading more of his books.

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Filed under: Book Reviews,Giller Prize — Ibis at 5:22 pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the dust jacket:
“Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though he discovers that the real woman, Dido Paris, is even more than he imagined.

Dido and Harry are part of a cast of eccentric, utterly beguiling characters. all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. Then, one summer, four of them embark on a canoe trip that takes them into the Arctic wilderness, following the route taken by the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death.”

Other useful links:
the not-so-useful Wikipedia article on Late Nights on Air
the Wikipedia article on Yellowknife, NWT
the Wikipedia article on Great Slave Lake
the Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Hay
the Wikipedia article on barren-ground caribou
Elizabeth Hay’s website

My thoughts:
I met Elizabeth Hay when she did a reading from this (as yet unpublished) novel. I enjoyed it so much I bought another book of hers (as yet unread) & put Late Nights on my mental To Be Read stack. So when it won the Giller, I knew I just had to read it for real and luckily enough, received a copy for Christmas (2007).

I’ve had a fascination with the North (and what born n’ bred Canadian doesn’t?) since I read Laura Beatrice Berton’s I Married the Klondike, so I was looking forward to going back North of 60.

At first I had a difficult time sorting out who was who, with two women from outside trying to make it into radio (in fact, I actually had to start reading over again after about 30 pp). I found the backdrop of the Berger inquiry very interesting, and I loved the whole middle act of the book—the journey across the Barrens retracing John Hornby’s 1927 expedition. I didn’t really warm up to Harry, Gwen or Dido so much & I couldn’t stand Eddy. Also, the ‘epilogue’ was really, quite disappointing.

Canada Reads 2008 wrap up
Filed under: Canada Reads — Ibis at 10:33 pm on Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Of all the books, I thought Not Wanted on the Voyage deserved the prize. In my own opinion, it was the most flawless selection in the group. It went one step beyond the average run of the mill novel. I’m not entirely disappointed with the King Leary win though. I thought the ending fell a little flat, but beyond that it was a great read and I’m happy for the author. I was a little surprised that Icefields didn’t make it to the final round, but it was leading the popular vote last I looked. I found Lisa Moore’s arguments rather strident and not a little inconsistent: she wants to “grow” (think of that word being uplifted by choirs of angels) but she dislikes when a book has any kind of obvious message or agenda. I think her choice of From the Fifteenth District is a clear indication that she doesn’t really have an understanding of the Canada Reads contest. As for Hopkinson’s book, I found it annoying how Jemini kept saying that she was sorry that “Canada wasn’t ready” for Brown Girl in the Ring — in fact, that attitude is rather insulting to me as a reader. I’m sure Canada was as ready to like Brown Girl as King Leary. It just wasn’t as well written a book.

I hope that we get some real classic CanLit on the list next year though.

My plans for next year: to buy all the books, to read them quickly, to journal each one here as I read it, to send them all out as bookrings. I just wish they did it more often!