Friday, 27 March 2015

The Sentimentalists by Joanna Skibsrud

I feel like I owe a pre-emptive apology to my book club. This was the book I picked for the next round of reads, as it was coming up on my list, and it was CanLit, and I figured, why not? I felt like Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which I got out of the library at the same time, might be too much to ask. It's not coming around as a read until July, I think, and so, far in advance, I'd like to say "I'm so sorry." And also that we can change it if people want.

I tried, boys and girls, really I did. I valiantly read the whole damn thing. I waded through sentences with so many subordinate clauses that I couldn't remember what the author was trying to say. I read sentences out loud to my husband, he of the M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing and asked if it was just me, or if that was truly a terrible sentence. He always looked at me like I had rocks in my head and said "Megan, that's really bad." He was able to nail down why the prose was so plodding, something to do with the cadence that I don't entirely get, but certainly could intuitively feel.

How, oh how did this win the Giller? It isn't that the subject matter's bad, but the prose that it's told in is so incredibly dull, so incredibly maudlin, so incredibly unintelligible that I have to wonder if people couldn't follow the sentences either and figured this was a case of the Emperor's New Clothes. That they weren't getting it and so it must be brilliant. I have no idea.

This is a case where, just because it's about a "worthy" topic, that does not mean it's a good book.

Again, book club people. I am so sorry.

The main character's father fought in Vietnam, and was pretty much destroyed by it. I guess. I mean, he drinks a lot, and his wife left him, taking their daughters, but other indications of trauma...fine, maybe the alcoholism is enough. I remember one of my father's best friends, though, who was more or less destroyed by his time in Vietnam, and this seems pretty mild to me.

(Is this where I confess that I read this less than a week ago, and I can't remember the main character's name? Or any of the characters' names, except maybe Owen and Henry?)

Her father is American, but ends up living in Ontario with the father of a man he served with in Vietnam, and there...he used to build a boat? He does crossword puzzles? This is a book that mistakes mundanity for profundity. Believe me, I think you can write in such a way that shows the mundane to be more than it seems, but this is not that book.

Is it really that easy to live in another country off the books? Particularly when you have to go back and forth over the border a couple times in one day during a medical emergency?

You know what? I don't care. I don't care about this book, for all it tries to whap us over the head with atrocities in Vietnam in the last twenty pages. Problem is, the rest of the book is so flat they fall flat too. I do not understand how this book won anything. And it's mostly because the prose is virtually unreadable.

No comments:

Post a Comment