Monday, November 23, 2015

book review: Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy

The backstory: Liars and Saints was shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize.

The basics: Liars and Saints is the story of the Santerre family. Over four generations, the novel covers World War II to the present (when this book was published in 2003.)

My thoughts: For years I've been saying I want to read all of the Baileys Prize longlists, but I don't actually do it, so I started a new project to at least make some progress to that lofty goal. (If I actually continue to make progress, I'll write a post about my plans.) Liars and Saints reaffirms why I have that goal. It's a book I had never heard of, by an author I somehow never heard of. Once I started reading it, I discovered she is someone so many of my bookish Twitter celebrity people adore. And with good reason. I'm such a fan, I checked out her other three adult books (one novel and two short story collections) from library when I finished the first chapter. (She also writes the Apothecary series for juveniles.)

From the moment I heard this book is a four-generation family saga and saw it's less than three hundred pages, I was curious. I gravitate towards books that are ambitious in scope but relatively short. Meloy more than delivers, and she does so in quite an interesting way. Even as I finished, I awed at how much Meloy includes in this story. I felt so connected with each of the Santerres, even as time passed and there were more of them. I adored both Meloy's writing and storytelling here. Her writing is succinct and stunning. There's an urgency to her writing that made me want to read this novel compulsively. To cover so much time in so few pages, choosing the moments to share and those to not is critical, and I never felt as though I was missing out on what anyone was doing. In that sense it felt like an actual family saga. After all, how many moments in our lives would be worth noting in a family history?

Perhaps my favorite part of this novel was how Meloy wrote about faith. The Santerres are Catholic, and through different characters, Meloy was able to show the Catholic church and modern Catholicism from a variety of angles. Meloy made me both understand why and how people are devout Catholics and question the church in complicated ways. This duality is hard to pull off, and I admire Meloy's ability to embrace complicated ideas in a way that invites the reader to wrestle with them.

Favorite passage: "Clarissa had always had a sense of possibilities, of many versions of life available to her, and now she seemed to be stuck with the one."

The verdict: Liars and Saints is an extraordinary novel about family, faith, and secrets. I loved the time I spent with the Santerres, and I can't wait to read Meloy's other books.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: June 17, 2003
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Liars and Saints from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Maile Meloy's website and follow her on Twitter

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1 comment:

  1. aaaah, this sounds so good. Must get this one. She's long been on my radar but haven't read her -- I have a soft spot for Catholics in fiction, too, having grown up Catholic (Sicilians on one side and Irish on the other!). I have no review books scheduled for next year -- we'll see if I can take on a reading project like this. I need to get out of this review book rut -- I'm wasting time reading stuff I'm super 'eh' on.


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