From The Fifteenth District
2 journalers for this copy...
One of the 2008 Canada Reads candidates.
And so it was with considerable relish and anticipation that I turned to the first page.
As I write this I can't remember what was on the first page. In fact I can't remember the title of the story or even what the story was about. I do remember thinking, "Well alright, not every story is going to be my cup of tea and there are lots more."
And as I read the second, I recall feeling a twinge of disappointment that it too wasn't exactly filling my heart and mind with delight, but I was still confident that Mavis would capture me eventually.
She never did. Why?
The fact is that I read the whole book cover to cover with a growing sense of frustration, riffling pages and thinking ahead as to which of the titles would be "the one". The title story perhaps? In fact it was okay, but only okay. My favourite of them all was "Potter" but not a one of them remains in my mind to the extent I can even describe what happens in it. That is perhaps one of the problems; nothing really does happen in any of them, at least action-wise.
To be fair to Gallant and the stories, I read all of the Canada Reads candidates in one big orgy of reading, anxious to finish them all before the debates, but in very little time and only in those few minutes before falling asleep. I read Fifteenth District in exactly the same time frame that I read Thomas Wharton's Icefields and, oddly (for me at least), I almost always nodded off to sleep while reading Fifteenth District and I did so a couple of times during Icefields as well. Also, oddly, I transposed the character Freya from Icefields in the Gallant story having a character of the same name and I was wholly disoriented by that.
As I passed the midway point in Fifteenth District I concluded that the problem was with me and I took some pains to read more slowly with a view to appreciating how Gallant had crafted her story. When I did concentrate, I did appreciate the beauty of her writing, her cleverness and subtle wry humour. But, frankly, it was hard to concentrate in those few minutes before sleep and I easily became bored with the exercise.
I finished the book disappointed but still with some optimism that Lisa Moore would show me the light during the debates themselves. Lisa, you disappointed me too. Other than gush about how gorgeous Gallant's writing was, your defense of the book failed to ignite any desire to re-read it.
Nevertheless, I know I am not wrong about Gallant's writing. I suspect I read her previously when I was in the position to give her work the attention it needed and deserved. So I intend to come back to the Fifteenth District again at another time.
But for now, this is book #10 for John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge.
In the post today to Ibis3.
I too was disappointed with this book. I had heard such glowing accolades heaped at Mavis Gallant's feet, I was prepared to be blown away. Her writing is wonderful, but for me, I think the setting of the stories (and the lack of *event*) just dragged it all down. I also read it in a marathon to finish the Canada Reads books and I imagine these would have gone over better split up and read over a longer stretch of time with other stuff in between — the stories all seemed to blend together. My favourites were His Mother and From the Fifteenth District.
I'm hoping some of my CanLit participants will like this book more than we did, Pooker. Perhaps not reading it under so much time pressure will help. :)