Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Good House - Bonnie Burnard

The Basics: A Good House, Bonnie Burnard, 1999, 283 pages, hardcover, winner of the 1999 Giller Prize

How I found it: I believe I was browsing Wikipedia's list of Giller nominees and winners, then reading plot summaries for nominated books on I picked A Good House because it sounded interesting. When I picked the book up at the library the cover looked familiar and as I read it I realized I had read it not long after it first came out because my mom had a copy lying around her house.

What's it about?: It is the history of one family from small town Ontario. We follow them through births and deaths and into the next few generations until there are so many characters (grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their spouses) that it becomes difficult to remember who is who. Each character has their own storyline and at times those storylines end up being truncated or rushed as Burnard scrambles to pack it all in.

Did I like it?: It was not a bad book, but it's not my favourite. Burnard has introduced way too many characters and included many useless details that don't lend anything to the story. She writes as if she is preparing the story to be converted into a screenplay for a movie that countless women will cry at and which will feature Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer. It's that kind of story. The book is touching, I will give it that, but I really don't think it is great literature and I can't believe it won the Giller.

Will you like it?: This is obviously a woman's book (sorry - I always hate saying that). It is a pleasant and engaging read but it is nothing special. Anyone who has grown up with lots of family around, or who wishes they had, will enjoy this book - a simple story about people who love and support each other.

But don't take my word for it: Readers on both loved and loathed it, and a reviewer from the University of New Brunswick student newspaper had a similar reaction to me.

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