Friday, 10 April 2015

All My Puny Sorrows

Nora will live on the top floor in the attic, with the squirrels, me on the second with the mice, and my mom on the main floor, close to the skunks.  We will be able to step out of our broken back screen doors at different levels and break into song like they do in La Boheme. 
I didn't expect a novel about the suicide of a beloved sister to be breezy and uplifting but All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, although heartbreakingly sad, is a life-affirming novel.

Elfrieda is 'glamorous and dark and jazzy like a French film star.'  She has an international career as a concert pianist and a loving husband.  She also wants to die, has attempted suicide before and will do it again.  Her younger sister Yolandi has teenage children, a couple of failed relationships behind her, a fondness for red wine and carries the kind of to-do list in her head which runs 'airport, car door, shower curtain, get divorced.'

Yoli is terrified that the psych ward will discharge her sister and has running battles with an elusive team of care workers, a 'mobile-phone hating nurse' and a flippant psychiatrist who makes the nurses giggle 'as though they were standing next to Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls!.'

While Elf is a dazzling character - literary, musical, street smart yet highly strung - it is Yoli who holds extraordinary appeal for the reader.  Whether madly cycling along the path to visit her sister in hospital and flinging her bike on the grass without locking it or trying to secure an oversize Christmas tree which comes crashing to the ground or drinking a glass of wine or three with her friend Julie she is a staunch and loyal friend, daughter, wife and mother who is desperately trying to stop her circle being depleted by one more.

I really wanted this book to win the Folio prize, shame it didn't, but I hope it will be nominated for more literary prizes.  My main picture is the hardback, but it's just out in paperback (on my sidebar) which has an attractive green/blue variation on the original cover illustration.   Brilliant book!  


Nadia A said...

I swear that every time you post about a book, it is one that I have just added to my TBR. I have been itching to get my hands on a copy of this one and after reading your post know that I must do immediately! I've read two of Toews' works before and loved them both, so I just know that I will enjoy this one. So glad you liked it so much - makes me excited to read it :)

Audrey said...

That's the best kind of book, in my humble that doesn't seem like it will shine in the expected ways, but does...

Penny O'Neill said...

Putting this on my list right now. :)

Monica's Bookish Life said...

I read this book a couple of months ago and loved it. I tried to get my book club interested in reading it. It's a hard book to talk about because it doesn't sound as uplifting as it is. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

Anbolyn said...

This has been on my radar for a while now, but my library doesn't own a copy so I've pushed it to the back of my mind. It sounds just wonderful so I might have to insist that my library purchases it!

Kat said...

I have never read Miriam Toews and this sounds wonderful. The prizes seem to be going to men lately, don't they?:) First the Booker, now the Folio. Oh well.

Terra said...

This book sounds rather good, I will keep it in mind.

Peggy Ann said...

Pinning this for future read! Sounds really good.

Grad said...

I've heard so many wonderful things about Miriam Toews and have a friend who loves her work. There are so many books I want to read this year, but I would love to make room for this one.

Bellezza said...

Anything that is life affirming sounds good to me! I don't have a sister, so there are aspects of this book to which I couldn't relate, but we all face the loss of someone we love sometime.

Vintage Reading said...

Nadia, I've now read a few of Miriam Toews earlier novels. I thought Irma Voth was particularly good. I hope she writes another novel soon!

Audrey, yes. I think this ducked under the radar of all the literary prizes. Shame because it deserves one.

Penny, hi, hope you enjoy it. I try to keep my tbr list to five books or it becomes a source of stress!

Monica, agreed, I was initially put off by the subject matter but I'm so glad I read it.

Anbolyn, yes use your influence with the library!

Kat, I really want Miriam Toews to win a prize - it shouldn't matter but it does!

Terra, please post if you do read it.

Peggy Ann, hi, it's a great book.

Grad, it's a problem isn't it? Trying to keep on top of your tbr list.

Bellezza, yes I think Toews is a writer to watch.