70 words, six commas, four dashes, one period. That is the opening sentence of Bonnie Burnard's "A Good House." People laugh whenever I describe a book as having simply-too-many-words but I will forever be able to present this book as the ideal example.
Burnard writes in two extremes: painfully describing every minute detail of the setting while managing to withhold more than the starkest insight into any of the character's thoughts and motivations- a rather impressive feat for a book written in the third person omniscient and filled with so many other banal descriptions of place. There is a great story to be found amidst all the clutter. Sadly, one has to sift through so much chaff to get to the wheat that the pleasure of reading is quickly turned into work of the hard-labour sort.
The character of Margaret is the one thing that kept me even remotely interested in reading the story; she quickly became my favourite female character of all the books I've read this year. She is an everywoman with whom I easily identified. Margaret is the reason this book gets two stars instead of the one star that I am so tempted to impart on this bit of prolix prose.
I like the meandering style of this family story.
I was rather partial to the story gaps, where chapters would start 2-9 years later and you are left to catch up on what had happened and what was happening. I found it an enticing way to read a story.
The almost never judgmental love that is portrayed in the story is a nice change from the often dysfunctional families in so many books.
I also like how, for the most part, the entire story focuses on the people in the family. Not on the changing world around them or even how those changes are effecting them. It's just about family dynamics through 50 years of love, tragedy, marriage, divorce, death and children.
Winner of the 1999 Giller Prize.
This won the Giller Prize because it was different. Its entirely narrative style avoids sentimentality and never exceeds a calm flow as it describes the tragedies of being human. The same distance that gives this book its literary strength is also its greatest weakness: we are kept so far back from the characters that I want to shout out “Why?” across the gulf that separates us.
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