Saturday, June 17, 2006
Strange Heaven - Lynn Coady [June/06]
I have had this book to read for a while because I really enjoyed my last read by Lynn Coady, Saints of Big Harbour. It is the first novel that she wrote, and well worth the read. I mainly read it in anticipation of the new Lynn Coady novel, Mean Boy, that I should be receiving from Random House soon! Then I will back track and read her other novels. I have the rest reading set up, it wasn't that I didn't want to read her, it just kept getting pushed to the side with other reads. No worries, though, I am so excited to get her new novel that I will probably have it done the day I get it. It is one of those books you see at the bookstore and you really want, but it's in hardcover and you don't pay full price for hardcovers... Remind me later that's a bad rule!
Anyways, from the flap:
Strange Heaven is tearfully hilarious, as funny and appalling as real life. Bridget Murphy, almost 18, has gone to Halifax from industrial Cape Breton, had her baby, and given it up for adoption. She's apathetic, the doctors decide, so they transfer her to the psych ward of the children's hospital. There, she's cooped up with five seriously disturbed children and a flock of wan children.
Sent home from Christmas, Bridget faces domestic uproar. Her grandmother, Margaret P., raves and prays from her bed, banging the wall with her bedpan. Bridget's kind-hearted parents, Robert and Joan, also take care of Robert's mentally handicapped brother, Rollie. Joan's efforts to kepp the lid on are no match for Robert's wild profanity, Margaret's dementia, and Rollie's efforts to join the fray.
Bridget's boozy friends, her whining ex-boyfriend, and the chaos make up a "strange heaven" in which her apathy starts to lift. Her vague plan to hibernate at home forever is off. Whatever she does, her drifting days are over.
Okay, for starters, I always take it for granted that people are aware of the places in the Canadian books that I post on here, but someone pointed out that geography is not everyone's strong suit. So, to help, this novel takes place in Nova Scotia, Canda. That is one of the Maritime provinces, or on a map, one of the dots on the East coast. Halifax, where she goes to the hospital, is the capital of Nova Scotia, or for those that are still confused, one of the dots. Provided you know where Nova Scotia is on the map, Cape Breton is the part at the top, a little island-like structure that is attached but just barely. And that has been your geography lesson.
Moving on, one of the things that I enjoyed about this novel is the fact that the family last name was Murphy. Murphy is my relatives last name a couple generations back, so I found myself trying to place my family into the dysfunction. It worked well... The family in this book is a typical family in many ways, and that is why you can laugh at them, you can see yourself in them.
It is a very sad book in a way, watching Bridget come to terms with her decisions, but Coady does a very good job intersecting the humour as well. It makes the book better for that because it is not too serious, but then it is not too comical either. You can understand the dilemnas, but at the same time find something to laugh at. I don't think there are any characters in the novel that don't have mildly comical scenes. It makes you surprised it was her first novel!
Just writing this is getting me all excited to see how her work has improved from her first to her latest. While Saints of Big Harbour is one of her middle works, I haven't read it recently enough to give a fair comparison.