Saturday, August 7, 2010

Booker Dozen 2010: February by Lisa Moore

The backstory: February, Lisa Moore's second novel (she also has a book of short stories), is on the 2010 Man Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: The novel is written in short vignettes that jump back and forth through time. Each vignette has a descriptive title and year to guide the reader. The center of the story is Helen, who lost her husband Cal in the 1982 sinking of the Ocean Ranger. Most of the events happen between 1982 and 2008, but Moore also jumps to the early days of Helen and Cal's relationship.

My thoughts: I have rather ambivalent thoughts on this novel. Moore's writing is lovely. I tend to enjoy character-driven novels, but this one never fully captured me as a reader. When I was reading it, I was engaged in both the writing and the characters, but it wasn't a novel I pondered much when I wasn't actively reading it. The pacing was slightly off for me. I'm curious how much thought Moore put into the ordering of the vignettes. At times, the neighboring vignettes seemed perfect, but there were times I became invested in a subplot and wouldn't see the character again for far too many pages. In a nod to the realism with which Moore writes, there was no beginning, middle or end to these character's stories. This passage from early in the book, when Helen learns about Cal's death, illustrates Moore's use of language and character:
"Looking at his dead son must have been like watching a movie where nothing moved. It was not a photograph because it had duration. It had to be lived through. A photograph has none of that. This was a story without an ending. It would go on forever. And Helen was trying not to faint because it would scare the living daylights out of her children, and besides, she had known. She'd known the minute the bastard rig had sank. (p. 50)
I confess, there were times I wanted to give up on this novel. I wondered if it was worth it. I stuck with it, despite not loving it universally, because there were parts I did love. My favorite vignette, "Her Profile, 2006" (p. 153-157) was brilliant, and it would work well even as a stand-alone short story.

The verdict: I certainly loved parts of it, but I didn't love the novel as a whole. Moore's writing is strong and poetic, but parts still fell flat for me. I liked it, and I'm glad I read it, but I didn't love it, and I'm not sure how long it will stick with me. I do think it will stand up well to multiple readings and become more nuanced. Recommended for fans of character-driven fiction and short story lovers.

Booker thoughts: I won't be upset if this one makes the shortlist, but I expect it will stay on the longlist.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 320 pages
Publication date:  February 2, 2010
Source: my local public library

Have you read February or other Lisa Moore books? What did you think?

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  1. I haven't heard of this one before. I love reading books that have stromg writing, but the emotion has to be there as well.

  2. I've read some of her short stories and heard an interview about the writing of this novel; it sounded as though it was very carefully and deliberately constructed and all the critical acclaim that it has received has definitely made me want to give her work another try. She actually has two collections of short fiction and one other novel, I think (which was also nominated for the Orange), called Alligator.

  3. I have this on reserve at my library now. We'll see how I like it.

  4. Hmm...I think I'll wait to see if this one shortlists before putting it on my TBR list. I love this series you're doing!

  5. thanks for your review. I heard of this when it was longlisted and was thinking about picking it up but character-driven boooks don't hold my attention these days so I'll probably pass. Thanks for writing about it!

  6. I read this one last year, and can't say that I was gripped by it. Looking back now I can't really remember much of it, which probably tells you all you need to know.


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