Friday, June 17, 2011

book review: We Had It So Good by Linda Grant

The backstory: I predicted this book would make the Orange Prize longlist this year, and even though it didn't, I was still eager to read this novel.

The basics: At its simplest, We Had It So Good is the story of Stephen, a son of immigrants in Los Angeles who takes a Rhodes scholarship. It's a family saga of sorts, even though it's only 336 pages.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of novels that explore the paths we take in life and the journey from young adulthood through adulthood, and Linda Grant delivered a spectacular novel about Stephen's journey through life.

Stephen is around the age of my parents, and I appreciated seeing key events from their lives through his experiences. Cultural events form touchstones, and in so many ways Stephen and his friends embody the hippie generation. As a U.S. reader, it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences of these events through the eyes of a man whose parents moved to the U.S. only to see him move to England.

I expected it to be wise, but I was pleasantly surprised at how funny parts of the novel were:
"It was actually Ivan's old man who was the true anarchist, a really crazy character who always made a rule of only defending clients he was certain were guilty because he liked to get one over on the law."
It's a unique humor, but as I read, I laughed out loud as many times as I said wow. As I sorted through the marked passages in my Kindle, I realized almost all of them are profound within the pages of the novel, but taken out of the context of the characters, the passages aren't as moving.

I'm surprised this novel didn't make this year's Orange Prize longlist, but I have my fingers crossed it will make the Booker Prize longlist (announced July 26th!)

Favorite passage: She simply wanted to be in that place where she could find an unusual range of human expressions, instead of the flat complacency of people who were miserable in all the usual, banal ways.

The verdict: This novel moved me as both a wonderful work of literary writing and as a wonderful story. I enjoyed the political sensibilities and the sense of history. In short, I loved it, and I am eager to read all of Linda Grant's novels.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: April 26, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle

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  1. I love coming of age stories, so this one sounds like a book I would like. I can't wait for the Booker longlist to be announced!

  2. Oh, I just loved your favorite passage! It sounds like this is an excellent book and since I love coming of age stories, it might be something I have to pick up. Great review on this one. I hope it makes the Booker Prize longlist for you!

  3. I love the sound of this novel -- and five out of five is promising! Will start to look around for it!

  4. I haven't heard of this novel before finding your review. This book sounds delightful, funny and smart. I just loved the lines involving 'Ivan's old man' ~ made me laugh! And your favorite passage is fantastic "...miserable in all the usual, banal ways." it's wonderful and makes me wish I had the book in front of me now.

    This book does seem deserving of consideration for a prize...the Booker list would be great. Thank for a gret review. I've put this on my tbr list

  5. I love this type of book. Any novel that explores the path we take is one that grabs my interest.

  6. I enjoyed this novel a lot too, and like you, I was really interested in the differences between the US and UK experiences of the 60s and beyond. It was something I hadn't given much thought to.

  7. This does sound good! I like the sound of this one - I will be looking it up!

  8. I love it when good writing is combined with a good stary. This one has been on my radar for a while, but I'm pleased to see you enjoyed it too. :-)

  9. From the passages quoted, this sounds like humor that I would appreciate :)
    I'm intrigued by the notion of a saga that is only 336 pages, and I like reading about the "hippie generation" so this is going on my wish list. Thanks!


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