The Age Of Hope
3 journalers for this copy...
Added to that was my delight, on beginning the book, in discovering that Hope was born in 1930. My mother was born in the early thirties and I assumed or hoped that reading about Hope would give me some insights into and comparison with my own mother's life that I might not glean from what she herself tells and has told, and what I see and have observed.
There are comparisons to be made to be sure. My mother was born and raised in a small religious town, she too was a housewife raising several (five to Hope's four) children, her husband worked hard to bring home the bacon and she too cut short her own career aspirations in order to marry but when times were financially tough went to work. She remained married to my father until he died earlier than one might have expected or hoped. And she seemed to find much happiness in her life after his passing when she was able to satisfy her own personal yearnings. Indeed, my mother's life might seem boring and ordinary in the grand scheme, as I expect many of the lives of women born in the same era might also appear to their female counterparts born later.
But these similarities did not make Hope real to me. My mother and all of the women I know of similar age are much more than Hope ever appears to be in this novel. Real women experience life (as outwardly boring as any one life may appear)in an exponentially more complex way than Hope does. It seemed to me that Hope experienced her life as if heavily drugged or perhaps lobotomized (we know she experienced electro shock therapy - the therapy of the times for mental breakdown).
I had thought, especially given that Bergen dedicates his book to his mother-in-law Doris (and apparently she was the inspiration for the book), that Bergen was paying homage to all of the middle-class ordinary women of the era - the ones who now, in Hope's words seem to "belong[s] to a whole herd of grey-haired women in running shoes who apparently did not exist."
Bergen's writing is as lovely as ever and I think the novel captures the times and what the later-born might think women of those times thought about. Unfortunately, at least for me, Hope does not exist. I'm far better off experiencing my mom and the women like her in real life than hoping to find what makes them click in this novel.
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The book is broken into five chapters each titled the "Age of" something. Hope's childhood and early adulthood is called the Age of Innocence. Hope goes off to the St. Boniface Hospital to study nursing but quits after the first year to marry Roy and settle down in Eden. Roy works in his father's automobile dealership and he makes a pretty good living. It takes several years for Hope to conceive but she and Roy eventually have 4 children. The oldest, Judith, was born in 1953 as I was so I thought I'd feel some kinship with her.
By the time the last child, Melanie, is born Hope is hardly able to function. Roy, who is a pretty good guy, arranges for someone to come in and help with the children and housework. Hope continues to decline and, in the Age of Despair, she ends up in a mental hospital. She undergoes electroshock therapy which seems to help for a while but then her mother dies and she helps a friend of her daughter's to obtain an abortion. She ends up again in the hospital, this time obtaining medication which helps with her depression.
In the Age of Profit, coinciding with Hope's 40s, the children leave home and then Roy's business goes bankrupt. In 1981 Hope and Roy leave Eden and move to Winnipeg. Poorer than they have ever been they live in a small apartment. One would think that this would push someone with clinical depression over the edge but Hope seems to be fine.
The fourth chapter, Age of Longing, is about becoming a grandmother and then a widow. Ironically, after Roy's death because he has a large life insurance policy Hope again becomes financially secure.
So in the final chapter, Age of Hope, she is content.
I never found that I got to know Hope despite the extensive chronicling of her life. It always felt like these things happened to her but we never really learned how she felt about it. What was getting electroshock therapy like? When she read a book did it fill her with wonder? Was the first experience of sex amazing or painful? Maybe if the writer had been a woman I would not have felt like this. But I have read books about women written by men that I found completely believable. Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright is one that springs to mind.
There is no doubt that David Bergen writes well but this is the second book of his that I have read and neither one engaged me. I was really hoping this one would be different and that I could root for it in Canada Reads. However, my favourite so far is Indian Horse. I'm planning on reading Away and February too but I don't know if they will displace that choice.
This is my first experience with Book Crossing.com and I hope the person who picks up this book will enjoy it as much as I.