Monday, October 25, 2010


Suddenly is published ten years after the Giller award-winning novel, A Good House.

In some ways it must be a bit of a curse for a first novel to win the Giller and be published to such critical acclaim.  Alice Munro's praise is quoted on the book's cover:"You keep finding more and more satisfaction in the unshowy craft, the unique vision of this writer who can tell you hard truths, hopefully."
It is only with family and friends by her side scratched out.  And peacefully, bravely, ready to meet her maker, all scratched out.  And then the word he was left with.  Suddenly. (p.235)
Thus the title is born.  Yet how could it truly be called suddenly, when people are taking shifts watching someone they love being consumed by terminal cancer?

Burnard's technical skill is displayed in this novel without question. Pages and pages of the novel are spent witnessing the horrible suffering that resides in mundane details like sponge baths, haircuts, meals...  I'd like to say it makes the memories of times past more poignant, and it does, but I also felt a bit manipulated.
The ragged pounding in his chest, a hammer, a claw hammer, is new and it is not what any man would call love.  He looks at her parched mouth and at her chest, as hard and flat and cold as a boy's, and at the weak expansion and shallow collapse of her lungs, that mock breathing.  Sheet or no sheet, he can see the body's ruin, the wasting and the bruising and the pale rubbery scars.
He doesn't care.  She could be inside out, he wouldn't care.
And then like a fearful boy put to a test that he has in fact prepared for, he is able to say the thing he should say.
"Love you, Babe," he tells her.  "More now."
(p. 194)
The Book Babes were in general consensus about the beautifully written prose.  Many of us  found the constant shifting difficult to follow.  There were a lot of paragraphs read and re-read to re-establish the person, the time, or the event that had occurred.  

This novel was a bit like a fugue, the way it weaves back and forward through time and points of view.  Sometimes two or three different time frames and perspectives within as many paragraphs. The journals kept over the years were a useful device to travel in and out of time,  through sickness and health, decades-long friendships, marriage, divorce, affairs.

Paragraphs with odd little twists that cause you to pause and re-read, like:
And Gus too wanted Kate protected from the world, from men and from herself, because when she was living at home with her mother there had been a bit of trouble.   Two guys once, smuggling up late at night to her room, their snorts of laughter giving them away and then their outrageous condoms offered to Kate's mother as evidence of their common sense.  And sixteen year-old Kate both laughing and enraged.  And strong.  And pounding her mother into the bed. (p. 109)
The book was not short on irony but the use of  humour was spare.  The only instance that comes to mind is near the end of the book, when "She Loves You," by the Beatles, is played at the funeral service, chosen by the daughter because she remembered her mother saying it would make a great funeral song.  "I’m not sure your mother intended that every single one of her words should be remembered,” her brother comments wryly. (p.284)

Friends that were held together through the web of association learn new ways to be with each other in the world.  The husband begins dating, with no interest in living in solitude.  Life goes on.  

1 comment:

The Clever Pup said...

Diane, I'm going to use the videos you forwarded to me in a post. I'll credit you. What a mess!