Tag Archives: McClelland & Stewart

Book Review: Wonder by Dominque Fortier

01.22.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

Wonder bk cvr

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Dominique Fortier

Translator: Sheila Fischman

Format: Trade Paperback,  299 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-4769-5

Pub Date: January 7, 2014

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Summary from Publisher:

This second work from critically acclaimed Quebec novelist Dominique Fortier, whose debut was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Award in both French and English, is an enthralling shell-game of a novel. Composed of three stories linked by theme and image, it brings alive a captivating cast of characters both historical and fictional. For lovers of boldly original literary fiction such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. In Wonder past and present, science and emotion, speak to each other to create a brilliant whole from three distinct parts. Readers are swept from a devastating volcanic eruption in 1902 to today’s Montreal by way of a scientific love story in Victorian England. Along the way we follow Baptiste Cyparis, “The Man who Lived Through Doomsday,” who traveled the length and breadth of the United States with Barnum & Bailey’s circus, and meet Edward Love, the mathematician who discovered the mysterious waves that shake the earth. This luminous novel confirms Fortier as both a first-rate storyteller and as a master stylist. From the Chapters-Indigo website.

Book Review by Zara from The Bibliotaphe Closet:

Wonder by Dominique Fortier is a storytelling delight, both in its imaginative scope and its absurdity, yet thoughtful depth. The is divided into separate parts: Monsters and Marvels, Harmony of the Spheres, and Love Waves, which together form a narrative that will carry its reader to visual and thoughtful depths.

While the book opens to a formal and opulent narrative, the ease in which the reader will connect the story through its main characters will slowly emerge from the interesting, comical, yet almost sad, and grotesque plot movements. In Monsters and Marvels, we’re introduced to the unfortunate place which Baptiste, a man of various trades, begins as an impersonating socialite on the eve of Carnival in Saint-Pierre where for one evening, the roles between the rich and its servants are reversed as a testament to Carnival’s rebellious joviality and re-enactment of play. Baptiste, who has renamed himself on various occasions, in his nomadic nature, ends up in an unlikely place after a gallant move to defend a prostitute, which without even a graceful thank you, becomes both a form of suffering and salvation.

In the apocalyptic fate of Mount Pelee and its surrounding village, Baptiste, is asked to join a travelling circus in which his “phenomenal” survival, as well as his cultural heritage, both become a palpable form of voyeuristic entertainment. While Baptiste finds some quiet solace in both a woman and her son, his uncontrollable desire becomes both his punishment and demise.

In the Harmony of the Spheres, the style of writing is effortlessly precise as it is poetic. And its characters, Edward and Garance, are an eccentric couple whose giftedness is both superior as it is strange. While the characters’ uniqueness give the story its interest, it’s the same talents that both elucidate an academic frequency and freedom, as it does hinder the characters’ chance at a “normal” life.

In Edward’s case, his mistrust of fiction and compulsion for numbers, equations, and the possibility of solving the essence of life in its most complex, fundamental state, drives Edward to the point of blind obsession and introspective loneliness. Yet, it is in numbers that Edward finds solace and understanding, a gift that carries him through the bewildering secrets that compel him to investigate and quantify.

The Harmony of the Spheres, is in its own way, a puzzle the reader must contemplate, unsolvable until the end, but rather in its reading, a process in the joy of attempting to understand Edward, the character, as much as he attempts to understand theorems.

But, the novel all comes to together in the last part of the book, Love Waves, a story about a young woman and a man, whose serendipitous meeting becomes a quiet courtship based on the comfort of routine and solace. The woman, like the man is unnamed for most of the story, a woman who walks dogs up and down a winter mountain to discover a kindred and mysterious person who leaves rocks under a birch tree in the shape of an Inukshuk. Like play, she responds to each new finding with her own creation and interpretation of rocks. The two eventually meet face-to-face, first unknowingly hostile, and then resolute in simple acts of kindness.

Nature, history, ideas, all become the backdrop in which they meet. Their conversations slowly piece together small hints of their history and their eventual involvement. Like the story’s title, their love and their meeting-of-the-minds seem to lull together as naturally as the tide. The three parts of the book, though in themselves seem disjointed, are rather a microcosm of personal stories that reveal six degrees of separation. While Fortier’s writing is exquisitely lyrical, her characters are rich and eccentric, hidden within them a multitude of history and connection.

The book, Wonder, is a literary specimen that will coerce readers to read actively and carefully, as well as wonder quietly its outcome.

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Characters: 4 stars

Pacing: 3 stars

Cover Design: 3.5 stars

Plot: 3.5 stars

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thanks to Random House of Canada on behalf of McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

From Random House of Canada website. http://www.randomhouse.ca/authors/121487/dominique-fortier
From Random House of Canada website. http://www.randomhouse.ca/authors/121487/dominique-fortier

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DOMINIQUE FORTIER was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in literature from McGill University and is a respected editor and literary translator. On the Proper Use of Stars, her debut novel, was first published in Quebec in 2008 as Du bon usage des étoiles and was shortlisted for the French language Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Grand Prix littéraire Archambault, and the Prix Senghor. It is being adapted for the screen by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria). Dominique lives in Montreal.

-From The Random House of Canada website.

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Have you ever read any work by Dominque Fortier? If so, what did you think?

What is the most eccentric character you’ve ever come across in fiction?

What do you think is the purpose of someone like Baptiste Cyparis in being the only human survivor of the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902?

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zara cat stamp

Book Review: Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Book Review:

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

04.17.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Elizabeth Hay

Format: Trade Paperback, 304 pages

Publisher: Emblem, imprint of McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-3797-9

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

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Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay is a rich saga that carefully details four generations of people and families intermingled through relationship within a small prairie community in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Elizabeth Hay is not merely a storyteller, but a history weaver—a gifted chronicler of sorts who makes you feels as if you’re taking the journey of memory along with her and her characters—not because it’s a laborious task, but because her writing is as intricate and intimate enough to mimic and recreate time as if you’re engrossed right into the narrative alongside her characters.

Elizabeth Hay, author of ALONE IN THE CLASSROOM.

The story, or rather, stories focus on the histories of Connie Flood, a young and beloved schoolteacher; the principal, Mr. Parley Burns, and the struggling student, Michael Graves, and Connie Flood’s niece, Annie. Together they form an intricate lattice of pregnant desire, insecurity, and secrets.

And though the backdrop of the book is school as the title implies with Alone in the Classroom, those who will be best “educated” are the readers of this book, themselves.

Your judgements of characters will be made to shift and dislodge right from under you. As you read, you will be led to believe one way or another about a character and then in time doubt yourself in your conclusions, realizing that conclusions themselves are never fully one-sided.

And Hay, will in her deft expertise show you that you can never fully understand the entirety of a character or a person—even in a lifetime—or over four generations.

Her prose is fiercely tender as it is severely honest, which is what won me over. Alone in the Classroom is far better than fiction—it’s poetry written in prose. But, Hay isn’t lyrical in order to resound the cling and clang of a fluttering school office bell or to reverberate a noticeable, deafening gong!

The story isn’t complex plot-wise though you will have to be an attentive reader. It is instead, a rich telling over a span of generations that depict how love is not necessarily singular or meant for one person only, but thick with complexity—multi-layered, and ever-evolving over time.

The characters are as deeply flawed as they are deeply rich and sensitive and ever-changing depending on the memory that upholds them. Since memory, too, is a special theme in the book and will shift and lay its kind or unkind judgement on each character depending on its bearer. This, too, is subjective and based on relationship, another insight shed by Hay to her readers.

Elizabeth Hay’s writing is exquisite and expertly crafted filled with nuggets of wisdom and truth that will exhilarate you while pain you at the same time at their discovery. These truths are only further enriched by Hay’s delicate weave of connection between her characters over a span of generations.

She holds the string of her narrative, which is like a glistening line of web and allows it to sway and then pulls it taut—only to allow it to sway again. You will be shocked at the story’s fragility and also its enduring strength and tenacity—both similar in the fragility and strength of the web and its stylistic narrative. These, too, are the traits of Hay’s writing power.

Her lyrical style lulls you into a lucid and pure believability, empathy, and even grief for her characters because they are more than caricatures in a well-thought-out book. Together, they become a deeper revelation of the inevitability of each pensive afterthought as a tender recollection that feels like an opera of shock and nostalgia and grandeur of loss, carrying with it the weight and significance of a small death or deep rapture of love.

It’s a passionate book and will be read as such. Alone in the Classroom is an engrossing tale of love and memory as echoes of who we are and what we become through whom we desire. It’s a beautifully written novel that has certainly earned its acclaim as a Globe and Mail Best Book. As its reader, I highly anticipate this award will be the first of many.

Congratulations to Emblem, an imprint of McClelland & Stewart and to Elizabeth Hay, the Scotiabank Giller-Prize winning author of Late Nights on Air. In my humble opinion, Alone in the Classroom, surely surpasses it.

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Zara’s Rating

 

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A special thank you to McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a media copy in return for an unpaid and honest review.

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Zara Alexis

Book Review: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

Book Review:

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

03.22.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Literary Fiction

Author: Benjamin Wood

Format: Hardcover, 420 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0-7710-8931-2

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

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The Bellwether Revivals by debut novelist, Benjamin Wood, is in a few words, an embodiment of its own subject matter: genius and enthralling madness—and the fine line it trespasses between the two.

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The narrative begins distantly, an omnipotent, observant tone that lays the foundation of its parts for the reader: the characters in Eden, the high-minded musical genius absorbed by his unconventional theories of the power of sound; Iris, his intelligent and musically talented sister who intuitively plays the cello; Oscar, the protagonist of the story, who, as the socially underprivileged and academic outsider in comparison to his new Bellwether friends, helps bring logic and compassion to this highly tense novel.

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Organ, St. Michaelis, Hamburg. Site of Johann Mattheson’s remains.

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It is a book that is equally rich in its development of characters as it is in its progressive and climatic plot, which is a feat in itself considering a book usually weighs more in one spectrum than the other.

It’s a story of Eden Bellwether and his exploration of musical theory and music itself, as a force, if rightly composed and attributed, holds physically healing and redemptive powers. His musical genius and inherent self-importance, which perhaps derived from the latent seed of mental disorder was only further perpetuated by a self-indulgent and wealthy upbringing by a family who continually encouraged his prodigious talent and fearfully succumbed to his every wish. The danger of this kind of environment coupled with the mania and complexity of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, only solidified the severity of Eden’s deteriorating psychosis.

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He’s a brilliant scholar and gifted musician, but the price of his superior intellect is a costly social incompetence that keeps him from being able to empathize and connect humanely, if not intimately with others. The egocentric nature of his character cannot help itself into amassing into a condescending, cocky, dominant, and controlling individual.

And those that suffer most from his presence and his ever-growing mania, are those who are closest to him, both in relation, in reverent awe, and intellectual worship—and even palpable fear.

From his debutante and complacent mother (Ruth), his confident and overly ambitious father (Theo), his suffering and compliant sister (Iris), to his specifically chosen friends (Marcus, Yin, and Jane) for their tolerance and adoration of Eden himself, as much as for their individual and necessary musical deftness.

Oscar, on the other hand, is resilient to Eden’s charms and holds a sobering view of the man whose mysterious genius is both exemplary and disconcerting. He is the grounding force for all those involved and the one with the most honest compassion as shown in his love and care for Dr. Paulsen, a resident of the nursing home, Cedarbrook, in which he works, and his willingness to involve himself in the matters of Eden’s “mental illness” on behalf of his growing relationship with Eden’s sister, Iris.

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King’s College, Cambridge University, England.

This is a powerfully unsettling read that will intrigue even the most logical personality and metaphysical, occult skeptic. It moves from delusions of grandeur to frightening crescendos of absurdity and madness that begs the question of how close and intermingled genius is with giftedness and mental illness.

Filled with the idyllic sanctuary of a wealthy environment found in the Bellwethers’ lifestyle and estate, the genuine intimacy between a couple in love, and the subordinate compliance of friends who love, revere, and almost fear their friend—it’s a gorgeous book and a “hypnotic” read. It’s a subtly frightening, psychological analysis of love, friendship, and sibling rivalry that spirals into a coarse doom of the horrors, dangers, and possibilities of a brilliant mind.

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Zara’s Rating

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A special thank you to McClelland & Stewart for providing me with a media copy in exchange for an unpaid, honest review.

Zara Alexis

Book Review: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

Book Review:

The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

12.30.2011

By Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Author: Michael Ondaatje
Format: Hardcover, 280 pages
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Pub Date: August 30, 2011

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The narrative, at first, is plodding and slow as if to mimic the intensive labour one requires in building a foundation. This foundation begins with the voice of a young boy, Michael, who is both inquisitive and yet, disciplined and controlled. And though he is described as a child who is curious, as most young boys are, he is an omnipotent character, one who is not authoritative in tone, but distant.

His maturity is revealed in his perception of those around him, the people who unravel in his mind, more as characters in the play of his short, but life-altering journey on the Oronsay. And characters who by his own confession alter him by his memories of them, seem to both propel him and sustain him much into his later life.

Michael Ondaatje’s craft specializes in making his characters subtle enough for believability and interesting enough to be entertaining. Ondaatje, however, never gives a full disclosure of his intended interpretation of his characters to his readers. We just haven’t the time to fully delve into who we think the characters are because Ondaatje intentionally does not allow us to.

As an author, he gives only what he feels is necessary and quite magically and artistically unveils truths to us we never realized were there to discover in the first place.

The book is written in the style of a memoir and goes as far as to share its main character’s name, Michael, with the author. This in itself can be deceiving since Ondaatje attests to the book’s fiction.

It doesn’t begin as a beautifully read story, but through Ondaatje’s lyrical prose, it slowly builds into a more full-bodied narrative with depth and meaning. What that is exactly, I cannot say—or am afraid to, since in the text, the reader seems to be somewhat forewarned by Ondaatje, the author, through his narrative in saying:

Recently I sat on a master class given by the filmmaker Luc Dardenne. He spoke of how viewers of his films should not assume they understand everything about the characters. As members of an audience we should never feel ourselves wiser than they; we do not have more knowledge than the characters have about themselves. We should not feel assured or certain about their motives, or look down on them. – p. 208

Ondaatje’s characters in this sense, are what and who they are. Simply put. (Though complicated.)

And even though the tone and voice of the narrative is seriously written in the style of the memoir and to be taken seriously as such, the characters and their stories feel fantastical, almost circus-like, as found in the depiction and pathetic fallacy of the circus troupe led by the character, Pacipia.

There is friendship in the book and childhood—how both are as fluid as the waters of the journey the Oronsay is on. And the recollection of memories seem to resurface as objects that are thrown overboard a ship only to resurface at sea: buoyant and changed.

The end of the books is what we would normally expect to be the beginning of a story, a scene where Michael is finally greeted by his mother on the shore of England.

But the changes and the growth of the characters have seemed to have already taken place on the ship. Perhaps it is Michael’s absorption of these stories that he is left with to recollect and work out to understand, which creates who he is later as a man and for the entirety of his life—or not. Perhaps it is merely a fictional memoir of a boy-turned-man who voyaged on a ship from India to England and was changed by it as any boy might be. His childhood, like Ramadhim and Cassius’ childhood had ended somewhere during their voyage at sea.

It is a lovely story of boyhood friendship, love unaware of itself, the duality each individual has the potential to possess, the uncertainty of life, and the inevitable changes it brings by the unexpected shores we find ourselves.

It is easy to see why The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje was shortlisted for the 2011 Giller Prize.

If you are patient enough to plod through the beginning of the story as one who helps in building a strong foundation, it’s much worth your read. As you turn each page, more is revealed to you—and to the characters it speaks about—which in itself, is a worthy journey for us all. One I highly suggest you take.

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Zara’s Rating

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What’s the longest journey you have ever travelled by car, boat, or plane?

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Book Review: Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Book Review:

Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

12.10.2011

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Non-Fiction

Author: Christopher Hitchens

Format: Hardcover, 816 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart, Signal Books (imprint)

ISBN: 978-0771041419

Pub Date: September 6, 2011

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Well, I’m avid reader, but I tend to lean towards Canadian literary fiction and poetry. But, not this weekend. I figure, I might as well dabble into something different – broaden my genre-of-choice and maybe even a little bit of my vocabulary.

If I get passed the laundry, the long line-ups at the mall, and the incessant questions asked by my two hyper-active and overly inquisitive youngsters—then, yes, I’m going to attempt to read Arguably: Essays By Christopher Hitchens.

Aside from Hitchens’ piercing gaze on the design of the front cover, the book is a collection of diverse topics, intelligent snippets, and witty allegations exposing injustice and hypocrisy (to a name a few) within the political and cultural context. And he’s funny, too. And I don’t mean you’ll slightly chuckle at his ferocious dialogue, but actually snort. Which I’ve already done – twice.

It’s also a timely read, in lieu of Human Rights Day on December 10, and just in time before the battles begin beneath the Christmas tree and mistletoe.

And you don’t have to read the book in one sitting, nor do you have to read it consecutively from the beginning to the end. It’s a book of essays without the restriction of plot or the ploy of pretty poetry. You can dabble and take what you like. If you like original ideas and innovative thinking, and a direct, smart mouth—a fiercely intelligent and unforgiving one—then you’ll appreciate this sturdy book. You may not even agree with Mr. Hitchens, but don’t let it show because when it comes to an argument, he’ll sense your fear, ignorance, or illiteracy—and he’ll eat you alive—and make you laugh about it. He’s that smart. There are no superficial nuances in his arguments. He’s got a point (quite a few actually) and he’ll stick it to you with the blade of his sharp tongue.

Since I’m a fiction worshipper, it’s not my usual cup of tea. But, as ideas go, I’m willing to drink as much of it as I can—while it’s hot and while the second load of my laundry goes.

If all else fails, you and I can have a stare down with Mr. Hitchens just by looking at the front cover of his book.

To my dear, Mr. Hitchens, might I never fall into an argument with you—because arguably—you’ve already won.

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Zara’s Rating

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Book Review: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Book Review:

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

12.10.2011

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

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Category: Fiction

Author: Elizabeth Hay

Format: Hardcover, 376 pages

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

ISBN: 978-0771038112

Pub Date: September 18, 2007

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The first half of the book sets down the foundation of its flawed characters who slowly woo you into the landscape of the North. The North in its isolation, yet the closeness and intimacy of the township, and the realism and authenticity of the characters’ unique, yet easily recognizable personalities. They are rich and substantial, lacking stereotype. And their relationships with one another reveal their longing, their failings, and their complexities—especially in the form of love.

The latter half of the novel becomes an expedition into the Barrens of Yellowknife, a lovely, yet detailed and intelligent view of a land rarely visited or seen by man. It weaves Canada’s historical pioneering heroes into the landscape while documenting the beauty of the northern wilderness. At the same time, the characters themselves experience the glory of its vastness, abundance, and beauty, while resisting and eventually overcoming its treachery and harshness.

It is a story about journeying, crossing boundaries, and surviving. Not only in the extreme climates of the northern wilderness, but also of the extreme climate that can be found in unexpected relationships.

The characters who you come to care for are intelligent, witty, passionate, humble, and resilient.

It’s very easy to see why this beautifully written novel won the Giller Prize in 2007.

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Zara’s Rating

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