MatthewSean Reviews

Book reviews, movie reviews, and other writing

Book Review – Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt — September 18, 2016

Book Review – Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt

Book Review – Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick deWitt

undermajordomo

Facts:

  •    Book: Undermajordomo Minor
  •    Author: Patrick deWitt
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 352-page hardcover edition in September 2016.

Book Description:

This novel by Canadian author Patrick deWitt follows the story of Lucy Minor, a young man who decides to leave his small town, given he has no real life prospects, and take up residence in a castle, as the Undermajordomo. When he arrives, and begins learning the variety of duties and tasks he is to perform, he also sees that the people in the nearby village, and the few other residents of the castle itself, are not all they appear to be. When he falls for a young woman in the village, he also realizes that to win her hand, he must take on a variety of risks, some of which he doesn’t even fully appreciate. He certainly has taken on adventure, mystery, and the exploration of love itself, in his new role at the castle.

Book Review:

This fantasy-mystery-romance hybrid is definitely an intriguing and funny tale that is quite successful in many respects. Similar to his last book, Sisters Brothers, author deWitt does an incredible job weaving humour and intrigue into the lives of interesting and multi-layered characters.

The novel actually feels very similar to The Sisters Brothers in many respects. The style of deWitt is very distinctive, and so for those who have read that novel, there are many points where you can feel reminded of the style and pacing from that prior work. Similarly, one of the problems with The Sisters Brothers, which comes up here, is that the plot often feels a bit scattered. We see our main character, Lucy Minor, moving around and taking part in a variety of activities, but often without real understanding as to why the sequence of events is occurring the way it is occurring. There are also minor scenes and characters which come up a few times, such as a story about two train operators near the beginning, which never come up again, leading us to wonder exactly why that scene was included in the first place. At times the cluttered structure feels a little confusing and unnecessary.

However, on a positive note, the characters themselves are fun to read about, encounter a variety of strange circumstances, and have depth to them. There are several characters throughout the novel that, while we may not necessarily have a strong liking for them, we are very interested as the reader in what happens to them. Given everyone has confused and unclear morals, the fact we still want to know what happens is a sign the author has created a compelling cast.

The setting of the castle and nearby village is fascinating, and deWitt does a great job creating with his words a feeling of the reader being in a fantastical, but also surreal, place.

Overall: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King —

Book Review – The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King

Book Review – The Inconvenient Indian – Thomas King

inconvenientindian

Facts:

  •    Book: The Inconvenient Indian
  •    Author: Thomas King
  •    Genre: Non-Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2012
  •    Read 288-page paperback edition in August 2016.

Book Description:

This non fiction account by Thomas King is a carefully studied, and deeply personal, examination into history and circumstances of Indigenous people in Canada and the United States of America. King uses wit, sarcasm, and dry humour to illustrate just how ridiculous past and present situations are for Indigenous peoples. He points out major concerns and admits to serious worries about the past, while also trying to draw possible opportunities for future improvement.

Book Review:

This book by the scholarly, knowledgeable King is a fascinating read. King raises issues we may be aware of from North American history, but gives us additional context to question whether we truly know the whole story. His ability to bring forward substantive issues that we need to be aware of and thinking about more often is truly important at this time in North America.

King provides great context of similarities and differences between Canada and the United States, but neither country looks good when considering Indigenous relations and affairs.

What really makes this book work is that King is never afraid to raise and explore important, sometimes uncomfortable issues, past and present.  At the same time, in using a sarcastic, humourous approach, King creates a setting where the reader is motivated to read onwards, chuckling and shaking the head while learning some important lessons. King’s use of humour is skillful and successful. His injection of personal experiences and people from his life also adds depth to the book.

This is an important book of learning that is recommended for everyone, particularly for non-Indigenous North Americans, who can be motivated to learn and build better relations with Indigenous peoples around them.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged — September 5, 2016

Book Review – A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged

Book Review – A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged

knock

Facts:

  •    Book: A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools in from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Edited and Abridged
  •    Author: Report from the TRC of Canada
  •    Genre: Non-Fiction / Report
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 196-page paperback edition in August 2016.

Book Description:

This report, edited and abridged from the full report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, provides an overview of the history of residential schools, and the testimony provided by survivors of the residential schools in Canada. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair led the TRC through its work, the culmination of which is this important and detailed account of the horrific history of residential schools in Canada.

Book Review:

This non fiction book, which is an abridged version of a lengthy full report, is an excellent resource for anyone, particularly those without much prior background, who wish to learn more about residential schools and the work and outcomes of the TRC process. This work provides important historical overview and background to the issues of residential schools, and also provides factual detail as to what happened in the residential schools, coming from a variety of physical documents and actual witnesses, many of them survivors of the schools themselves.

It is hard to fully fathom the true horror and damage the residential schools caused to many generations of Indigenous Canadians. This book, although difficult reading in parts, is necessary for all of us to understand our contemporary history. We need to understand what happened, even in current, modern times, to Indigenous peoples in our country, if we are to move towards reconciliation.

The information in this work is well documented and evidenced, with numerous footnotes throughout, and many volumes of supplementary material available to the reader who wants more, including the full report. The many physical documents that were found from church records and government records help provide evidence to the awful realities of the residential schools, but the most powerful and raw information was in the form of interviews and quotes from survivors themselves, which are found throughout this book.

The comments made in the Reconciliation section are particularly powerful and forward thinking, and helps give us a road map as to what to do next. Chief Justice Murray Sinclair is a fountain of knowledge, and his leadership and wisdom come through in the text.

The one thing missing from this book, which may have been helpful in terms of context, would have been some additional detail on the history of treaties and colonization, however perhaps this was not included in the edited and abridged version.

In closing, and to summarize, in order to understand Indigenous issues in Canada, and work towards reconciliation, this book is a vital resource and recommended reading for all Canadians.

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

Book Review – Barkskins – Annie Proulx —

Book Review – Barkskins – Annie Proulx

Book Review – Barkskins – Annie Proulx

barkskins

Facts:

  •    Book: Barkskins
  •    Author: Annie Proulx
  •    Genre: Fiction
  •    Year of Release: 2016
  •    Read 721-page hardcover edition in August 2016.

Book Description:

This epic drama follows the 300-year, multi-generational history of two families.  The beginnings of the novel trace two men who travel from Europe to New France (present day Canada), and who begin to build a life for themselves as settlers in this new world. Their families take different twists and turns.

One man, Duke, ends up founding a large forestry corporation that the reader sees develop in North America and with developments around the world over the course of the novel. The second man, Sel, ends up partnering with a local Aboriginal woman, and so we see the development of a Metis family that has members close to the land and close to forestry, depending on which generation and which person we are focusing on.

As the families stories weave together and intertwine over the generations, so to the reader sees how individuals from Europe affected the Indigenous populations of North America, and affected the forests around the world with development, deforestation, and the industrial revolution.

Book Review:

This novel has been called a crown jewel for Annie Proulx, the writer of Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News. At over 700 pages with many characters and spanning many generations, it is certainly an epic piece. And as I read the novel, I was pleased to see that the praise for the novel is well founded. Proulx does an amazing job with character development, story development, and exciting plot. She also wisely includes family trees to help the reader keep track of the families and characters.

The novel never feels long, because we are moving across 300 years of history. In some ways it is like a collection of connected stories, where we get to know characters, some good and some bad, and then we move on to another time and see the progeny of that generation continue the story. The way Proulx sometimes brings the two families together is also an interesting and creative touch, particularly towards the end. The ability of Proulx to create multi-faceted characters that we can care about, or despise, sometimes both, demonstrates her writing skill.

One character of considerable interest is Lavinia, a female who takes a leadership role in the Duke family forestry company. Proulx shows us through this character how someone of Lavinia’s time period thinks and feels, and also allows us into other relates issues of the time period, in this case the early development of equal rights for women. Lavinia is a great example of a strong, interesting character, who Proulx is also not afraid to show imperfections as well.

Proulx does a great job of showcasing and highlighting a variety of themes and problems of the time, including the treatment of Indigenous peoples, classism, racism, capitalism, and the lack of reforestation efforts as forests are destroyed around everyone. At the same time, she creates characters who are never black and white, ensuring a complex and thoughtful read.

At times the novel does feel a bit weighted down by the sheer volume of characters and story going on, but for the most part Proulx does a wonderful job of taking an important, timely topic like deforestation, and trying to explain the concept through a variety of human eyes.

Proulx also tries to illustrate where this might be going in the final chapters of the novel, forcing the reader to think about the future as well, after an incredible read through the past. Overall, this is definitely a recommended novel.

 

Overall: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars