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!