In Other Reading

Much of September and October were occupied by reading books which appeared on prizelists and a few which I thought might appear there.

Most of these I’ve already discussed (a quick way to locate them is through my Autumn 2018 Prizelists and Events page, which collects the relevant posts in one location) but I’ve still get something to say about these:

  • Lauren B. Davis’ The Grimoire of Kensington Market,
  • Craig Davidson’s The Saturday Night Ghost Club,
  • Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn,
  • and Dionne Brand’s Theory.

In fact, I had so much more to say about Lauren B. Davis’ The Grimoire of Kensington Market that there is a full-length and exhaustive review of it published in Issue Five of The Temz Review.

If you like stories about bookstores and fairy tale retellings, and if you have respect for the fantastical and for tropes being subverted (girls can be rescuers, the dog can survive), you’ll appreciate this novel as much as I did.

Writing this review also gave me an excuse to read the last novel of hers which I had overlooked, The Radiant City (2005), which might even be my favourite (but I’m refusing to choose).

(Pssst. If you’re new to Lauren B. Davis, you might want to read up on some of her earlier novels as well, like the Giller-nominated Our Daily Bread (2011), The Empty Room (2013) and Against a Darkening Sky (2015)).

Craig Davidson’s The Saturday Night Ghost Club is delightfully packaged for a Stand-By-Me kind of story in which a grown man reflects upon his boyhood experiences. Specifically times shared with an uncle who still believed in things which many other adults had abandoned their belief in, like ghosts for instance.

Uncle Cal has a good reason for believing and it won’t take you long to reach an understanding of that because the book reads quickly and easily. The story is heavy on atmosphere and emotion, but the pacing is taut, and the characters are credible.

(If you’ve read Davidson’s work under his pseudonym, Nick Cutter – like The Troop and The Deep – you will know just how dark he can go and this novel is only shadowy by comparison.)

My favourite part, however, are the oh-so-familiar descriptions of south-western Ontario summers:

  July wore into the dog days of August. The heat fell like a guillotine blade at first light. By noon you felt as if you were breathing through boiled wool.
The kids of Cataract City took to their basements – most of them unfinished, with bare cement walls weeping moisture. We did what Canadian kids do on unbearably hot summer days: watched reruns of The Beachcombers and Danger Bay on the CBC, played endless games of clue, Monopoly and Stratego, chucked darts at old corkboards, read Archie comics on sofas that had been displaced from the living room to dodder out their days as basement relics.

Both Davidson’s novel and Kathy Page’s Dear Evelyn were nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award, but they are very different stories.

Dear Evelyn recalls Carol Shields description of the novels which she most enjoyed, which were not heavily plotted in a traditional manner, but were simple and quiet stories about ordinary lives. The arc of a human life is enough of a plot for Carol Shields and it’s enough for Kathy Page and for me too.

Scenes are vividly sketched, dialogue is realistic, the tension in a relationship is fairly and credibly built and distributed, all of which makes this novel a joy to read.

But I truly loved the early scenes, in which Evelyn and Harry meet and get acquainted. Here is Evelyn, closing a copy of Rebecca and heading outside (that’s where it will happen, on the steps):

She closed the book and made her way down the flights of red marble steps to the terrazzo floor and out through the reference library, which she liked for its coat of arms with the golden bees, and the clock and the curved glass ceiling that made it seem like a railway station – as if everyone studying in that room, their heads wearily bent over school or trade textbooks was actually going somewhere else: Monte Carlo, perhaps.

Reading Dionne Brand’s Theory is a completely different reading experience. Our narrator is an academic, more accustomed to studying and analyzing than to life-off-the-printed-page.

Because Brand is also a poet, her academic narrator does have an elevated style about her, but the prose is also spare and clean, so the text-book style is not overwhelming. (There are a couple of footnotes which demonstrate just how convoluted and jargon-rich a not-poet academic narrator’s tone might have been.)

Plus, she is aware of the limitations of her “cul-de-sac of perceptions” and her “small room in the world” outside which “the dreck piles up and I do nothing about it but think”. So when she is looking back at the trail of intimate relationships (which don’t really seem all that intimate), readers feel distanced from her but not severed.

Readers likely will want to challenge her, as do other people in her life, but we still want her to find some kind of peace with her restlessness:

Where was I born, how did I justify being an academic, who did I sleep with, did I ever question my left-wing politics, my gender assignment, my comfortable life while good people were starving, my obvious class allegiances, et cetera, et cetera. And did I intend to make a living off studying people as if they were bacteria?

Each of these four novels is very different in atmosphere and style, but these writers are talented tale-spinners. Which one do you think you would connect with more readily?

2018-12-03T17:18:46+00:00

13 Comments

  1. LiteraryHoarders (@LiteraryHoarder) December 7, 2018 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    Our Daily Bread (2011), The Empty Room (2013) and Against a Darkening Sky (2015) are all owned by me – still to be read. But I also own and really loved The Radiant City. The Grimoire is on the list too!

    Okay, you seal the deal for me – I keep looking at The Saturday Night Ghost Club and now it’s just something I’m definitely going to pick up.

    I loved and adored Dear Evelyn. It’s definitely one that stays with you and I keep turning it over and over in my head – how brilliant Page was at capturing both Harry and Evelyn at all the stages of their lives and in their long marriage. I love Harry so much and that ending still makes me weep! Beautiful book!

    • Buried In Print December 12, 2018 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      Wasn’t The Radiant City so deliciously complex? I especially loved the relationships which unfolded in unexpected (unpredictable, human, real) ways.

      Even though I’ve never been a boy coming-of-age in Niagara Falls, I felt like he was talking about my own childhood at times. I could feel the stick between the backs of my knees and the furniture!

      The comment you made on your post about the book still sticks with me, the fact that, even when you just heard someone else talking about the end of the book, it made you cry all over again. Normally that’s the kind of sentence that would make me decidedly NOT read the book, I would actually reread this one, just to experience it all, all over again.

  2. Naomi December 7, 2018 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    Two of these I have already read. How I loved Dear Evelyn. And how I love all Lauren B. Davis writes. I think my favourite of hers is The Empty Room – it still haunts me. I have yet to read her short stories and The Stubborn Season. I hope I’m not the reason that book was disappearing from the shelves at the Grimoire!

    I have The Saturday Night Ghost Club out from the library now for the second time. I don’t know, though… there are quite a few in line ahead of it. At least I know it’s easy to find.

    I have never read anything by Dionne Brand, which is shameful. But I hope to change that soon! I’ve requested Love Enough from the library in honour of her Toronto Bookmark which is being unveiled this Saturday (Dec. 8). Oh, that’s tomorrow! Will you go?

    • Buried In Print December 12, 2018 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      Love Enough feels to me like a more inviting way of telling the story in Theory; they would make terrific bookends. Unfortunately, I only learned about the Bookmark ceremony after I’d made other plans for that Saturday but I would have gone if I’d known before the week-of! If only because I know you would have wanted to be there! 🙂

      Are you still reading The Saturday Night Ghost Club? I can’t remember — did you go to Niagara on your Ontario trip this past summer?

      The Empty Room is wonderful. I still think of Colleen when I am in the Rosedale and Yonge/Eg areas of the city. You might be glad you saved The Stubborn Season ’til the end: I think you’ll really enjoy that one. (I hope you’re NOT the reason it was disappearing!)

      • Naomi December 13, 2018 at 1:45 pm - Reply

        I finished The Saturday Night Ghost Club – it was a lot of fun – you’re comparison to Stand By Me is a good one!
        We didn’t got to Niagara, although Islay really wanted to. Not enough time! I’m assuming Cataract City is another name for it? Now I want to read Cataract City!

  3. annelogan17 December 6, 2018 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    I can’t remember if I’ve read anything by Brand before, perhaps some of her poetry? Other than that, probably not. The fact that I can’t remember either is very telling LOL

    • Buried In Print December 6, 2018 at 4:09 pm - Reply

      I think it was her poetry that I read first as well (I can’t remember for sure either). So we’ve agreed: start elsewhere, when you do start! 🙂

  4. annelogan17 December 5, 2018 at 11:02 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed Craig Davidson’s book, and I may read Dear Evelyn if my book club chooses it for February…The Dionne Brand book is just too academic for me I think. I could barely understand the review of it in Quill and Quire for god’s sakes LOL

    • Buried In Print December 6, 2018 at 10:23 am - Reply

      LOL Have you read any of her others? She’s one of my MRE (MustReadEverything) authors (since At the Full and Change of the Moon) and What We All Long For is among my favourites. You’re right: Theory is not likely the best place to begin.

  5. A Life in Books December 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    I have a copy of Dear Evelyn sitting on my shelves, and very much like the sound of Theory.

    • Buried In Print December 4, 2018 at 5:09 pm - Reply

      Oooooh: how did you find Evelyn and Harry? (Now you’ll have to leave a separate comment! Heheh) I would love to think that international rights are available for that Biblioasis title!
      I would imagine that Dionne Brand’s works have a bit of reach to them: she’s such a decorated writer, lots of pretty little prize badges on her books, whether poetry or prose.

  6. Sarah Emsley December 3, 2018 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    “… life going on toward death. This is what interests me: the arc of a human life.” Brilliant. Dear Evelyn is on my list.

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