Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Well Written Novel, Except When It’s Not

Here are two hallmarks of a Globe and Mail book review of a major new novel. The first is fawning over the author until reader nausea is induced:

I should admit to being a fan, to having done all the same things that people do upon first reading Fugitive Pieces. I read pages aloud. I underlined passages, went back and asterisked them, then went back and underlined them again.

And I waited for a second novel. But none came. It has been 13 years. Now, finally, like something exhumed from the distant past, comes The Winter Vault.

Has it been worth the wait?

It has.

The second is a brief burst of valid criticism near the end of the review that has the potential to undermine or even contradict all the fawning praise that has preceded it, followed by an immediate retraction/justification/rationalization:

The Winter Vault is a beautifully written though somewhat difficult book. Michaels's prose is sometimes faulted — wrongly, I think — for being too lyrical or overly poetic, the kind of thing that has no business in a novel. Indeed, we feel Michaels sometimes straining against the form of the novel, and such strain is not easily borne in every instance. A single example may suffice. Avery is watching Jean as she gazes out over the changed Ontario landscape: "Her head, he was sure, was bursting with thought" — even granting poetic licence, it is an unfortunate line.

But The Winter Vault can justify its excesses.