Wednesday, April 9, 2014

book review: Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter

The backstory: Eleven Days, the debut novel by Lea Carpenter, was longlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize and shortlisted for the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan Prize.

The basics: Set in May 2011, Sara's son Jason, part of an elite military unit, has been missing for nine days. Jason and his disappearance are national news. Carpenter tells the story in alternating voices of Sara, in 2011, and Jason, from the past.

My thoughts: Carpenter immediately drew me into this novel and Sara's narrative. The writing is lush and emotional. When the narration shifts to Jason (and the past), I was intrigued. Soon, however, I found myself longing for more Sara and less Jason, or rather less Jason not seen through Sara's thoughts. Structurally, Jason's narration struck me as a functional and intellectual plot device. It lacked Sara's emotionally authentic, and thus more compelling, voice.

Admittedly, this novel is the first one with a strong mother-son connection I've read since I found out I'm pregnant with a son. How much this new knowledge impacted by connection to Sara is difficult to say, but the passages in which she ponders his childhood moved me move than they might have before this knowledge:
"Art and writing: these were his early passions. And that pleased her; it somehow reinforced her sense of herself. It reinforced that she had not ever been owned by anyone--not a government, not a military, not a man. It also reinforced her dreams for what she wanted her son to be. She wanted him to be free from the demons that had come with what his father did, or at least what she knew of what he did. She didn't want a son who grew up to be familiar with words like Kalashinikov, katusha, or jezail--unless he learned them from a Kipling poem."  
The passage is beautiful in its own right, and it exemplifies so much of Sara's character and internal thoughts, yet I felt more like a mother character than I often do, rather than simply coming to understand her better.

Favorite passage: "Part of the blissful ignorance of not yet having had a first child is the belief that you might just be able to influence the course of their lives. Influence them to greatness. And away from danger."

The verdict: Eleven Days is a beautifully written, contemplative war novel, but it's also a novel concerned with themes much deeper and broader than war. Carpenter is clearly a talent to watch.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 289 pages
Publication date: June 18, 2013
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Eleven Days from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. I loved this book, but I agree with some of your complaints. I did find Sara's section more emotional, but I liked the break given by Jason's section. If it had been that emotional throughout it would have been overbearing. I also found the information about the army training really interesting and they helped Jason's section to be compelling. I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it sounds as though I liked it more than you did.

  2. Before reading your review, I wouldn't have bothered to pick this one up. Now I will. Nice review.


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