Archives for Canadian writers

Book review: Fred’s Funeral

None of us have the luxury of hearing what is said about us after we are dead. In Fred’s Funeral, Canadian author Sandy Day tells the story of one soldier, returned from the First World War, who felt misunderstood and sidelined by his family. Only when he dies in 1986, seventy years after he went to war, does he observe his own funeral and find out what they really think of him. Fred Sadler has lived his post-fighting years in one institution or another. Clearly he is suffering from some form of shell shock or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but this goes undiagnosed. There are periods of living in boarding houses, his family is unwilling to have him live with them, until his behaviour deteriorates and he is sent back to hospital. Now dead and trapped as an unwilling ghost, Fred observes his funeral presided over by Viola, the sister-in-law he always disliked. As the mourners sit around and share memories of Fred, he watches, frustration mounting, as he is unable to correct their observations. They portray a ‘Fred Sadler’ which he does not recognise. I kept expecting something to happen; a true memory of the war, an event, which would
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: All My Puny Sorrows

This is a novel about depression, suicide, death, broken families, love and music. Yes, it is sad, but it is also laugh-out-loud in places. Canadian writer Miriam Toews drew heavily on her own experiences in the writing of All My Puny Sorrows, and that depth of empathy shines from every page. Do not ignore this book because you think it will be depressing: it is uplifting, and you will feel sad to finish it. The story centres on sisters Yolandi and Elfrieda von Riesen. Elf, the elder, is a concert pianist. Yoli writes the Rodeo Rhonda teen novels. Elf’s story – and that of the family of women surrounding the two sisters, their mother, their aunt, Yoli’s daughter, their friends – is told by Yoli. “When we were kids she would occasionally let me be her page-turner for the fast pieces that she hadn’t memorized. Page turning is a particular art. I had to be just ahead of her in the music and move like a snake when I turned the page so there was no crinkling and no sticking and no thwapping. Her words.” We do not hear Elf’s inner voice except in excerpts from letters and poems. What
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Etta and Otto and Russell and James

This was a ‘sort of’ book for me. I ‘sort of’ enjoyed it but… I was ‘sort of’ irritated with it too. The story premise for Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper grabbed me straightaway, and the excellent first paragraph. “Otto, The letter began, in blue ink. I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. Don’t worry…” Etta and Otto are in their eighties. The setting is Canada. Etta sets out one day to walk towards the water, which means either east to the Atlantic or west to the Pacific. She goes east. Otto stays at home, working his way through Etta’s index cards, trying hard to make cinnamon buns like hers. Gradually we learn their back stories: Otto’s childhood on the farm then as a soldier in France during the Second World War; of Etta’s teaching days and then a munitions worker. The Russell in the title is their childhood neighbour and friend. The James of the title is a coyote. I was unclear why Etta was walking, unclear why Otto seemed philosophical and Russell concerned by her adventure. The relationships are enigmatic, the memories are fluid, which I found confusing. And what precisely
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Categories: Book Love.