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Governor General's Literary Awards 2007: Part Two

Posted by MP / November 14, 2007

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My cents, one per paragraph, on two more books in the English Fiction category of the awards, Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero and Barbara Gowdy’s Helpless.

Divisadero is a novel about the repetitions of desire and disappointment, seasoned with dollops of poetic genius, I think it aged me. From a story of adolescent love and Greek tragedy in 70s California, Ondaatje's caravan arrives at a reflection on writing in France. His poetic reinforcement, for me at any rate, redeemed some of the more rickety structures of the work—the slapdash poker stories and Iraq war nonsense, both of which felt like awkward attempts at updating a narrative that’s happiest in the early-twentieth century. There are other problems, the perfect self-consciousness of the main characters, like Anna, for example, who knows that “she wanted to fold the two halves of her life together like a map.” But mostly there is just luxurious prose, “shouts of surrender or epiphany,” and stories of falling in love that could only have been written by an old man.

Helpless, on the other hand, is not written by a poet. This gives it extra narrative tooth, not that it needs the help. A story about kidnapping and paedophilia, it manages to give the criminal couple some nuances (tripping with clininal-speak like “where his feelings those of a father, a protector, or was he romanticizing his lust?”) while mostly avoiding the stereotype of victims recreating the abuse they had suffered. Gowdy also manages to touch on the blame, always implicit, put on the family of a kidnapped child, and to impressively portray Rachel’s sudden turn toward her kidnapper. The effortlessness of that late shift alone, though it didn’t alter the book’s fundamentally crispy character, made me reconsider the whole. Sensation with surprising artfulness.

Part One on the GG's, Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals. The winners are announced in two weeks.

Discussion

10 Comments

completely dismayed / November 21, 2007 at 02:08 pm
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"But mostly there is just luxurious prose, “shouts of surrender or epiphany,” and stories of falling in love that could only have been written by an old man."

oh my god. You have just reduced Michael Ondaatje to An Old Man. Let's just ignore the man's massive contribution to the world of literature and dismiss him as an old geezer, hmmmmm?
Lev / November 21, 2007 at 02:15 pm
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Oh, no, that's not what I meant at all! I wrote 'old man' as a compliment, to suggest that the book reflects a lifetime of experience. The ambiguity is my fault.
Ana / February 4, 2015 at 04:11 am
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ARCADIA AWAKENS is currently my book love. So unuiqe and just freakin' amazing. Definitely one to check out. :)If we are talking boys in our books...I must say, I just love Luc from the Personal Demons series. *Sigh* Just perfect!
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