Thursday, December 17, 2015

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

I can best describe this book as weird.  It's well written, and the characters are interesting, but not much happens even though it takes place over the span of about 5 years.  I shouldn't say not much happens - I guess friends are made, people (and dogs) die and there is a fair bit of travel between New York and Ontario cottage country.  But it all sort of plods along so I didn't feel like much was happening - and then all the sudden a couple of years would pass.

The story centres on Jim, who is about 11 at the start of the book.  He is traveling by car to the family's summer cottage in Ontario with his Canadian mother and American father.  During the car ride Jim wants to know the worst thing his parents ever did - both concoct a scenario but you know you will eventually discover much worse things.  And you also know something is weighing on Jim - and though he never really talks about it eventually you can piece together what happened.

The writing style is also weird though it works.  Perspective can change mid-paragraph - from Jim to his mother, to Lulu, his mother's childhood friend who re-enters her wife, much to the chagrin of Jim's father who already lost his second wife to another woman.

Though not much happens, clearly the point of the book is the relationships - between Jim and his mother, Jim's half brother, Blake, and their mother (who keeps him in the dark about a very important piece of his history which may account for why their connection is somewhat tenuous), between Jim's two parents (this is his mother's second marriage and his father's third - and they both seem to have bad luck in marriages), between Jim, his mother and Lulu, between Lulu and her brother Guy...and the list goes on.

The book also examines the lasting impact parental mistakes can have on their children, especially the rift that is created when a parent prefers (or is perceived to prefer) one child over another.  This happens with Lulu and her brother, Jim and Blake, and Jim's father and his mysterious brother who Jim's mother is dying to meet but only gets to at the very end of the book.  While Jim's mother also says her father clearly preferred her while her mother favoured her brother, she does not seem to continue to suffer as a result - maybe suggesting this balance helped.

I was intrigued enough to keep reading the book, but I wouldn't say I loved it.  I certainly preferred Hay's earlier works.

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