The description gives a great idea of the plot, so I won't summarize it here.
This novel won the Giller Prize in 2010, and was the Globe and Mail Top 100 Book in Canadian Fiction in 2010 as well.
I will NOT use the trite, "I WANTED to like this book, but" line. I didn't want to like it; I expected to like it because of the awards it won, but I'm guessing that I would need to be more of an "intellectual" reader to do so. Although the description makes it seem as though the book revolves around the unnamed daughter trying to find out about her father's life, that's not necessarily so. It revolves around a number of things, and her father's years in Vietnam only come into play very late in the book.
The things it revolves around: some rather unsettling glimpses of the narrator's self-described out-of-body experiences (one at an intersection in her city after finding her boyfriend of six years with another woman), an unfinished boat (the Petrel) begun by her father as a labor of love for her mother before their divorce, a wheelchair-bound man named Henry Carey who lives in a government house in Casablanca, Ontario, a reformed alcoholic father who slips back off the wagon when he finds that he is ill, and a lot of philosophical asides, i.e.:
But, as I floated over Henry's old house, and did and did not listen to myself, it occurred to me that the reverse of the thing was also as true. That instead of disappearing - or equally, as we disappeared - we also existed more heavily, in layers. And that by remaining, as in floodwater, always at the surface of everything, though our points of reference begin to slowly change, it is always so slight a transition, moment to moment, that it is almost always imperceptible.
Now .. if you can understand the above paragraph the first time through without slowing down or backtracking, and if you LIKE the above paragraph, this may be the book for you.
Sad to say, it wasn't the book for me. Although the writing is smart, and quite often emotionally atmospheric, it also meanders rather disconnectedly, with brief bursts of recollections. If you've ever been having a conversation about one thing and it brings something totally disconnected to mind, that's kind of how this reads.
There is a point in the book where we start to hear Henry's story, but it is never completed. We never find out what put Henry in the wheelchair, even though there is a clue early on that we will.
We get what we think is her father's story in Vietnam, but what actually happened is rather unclear and muddy even in the telling of it. We DO know that it ends up in a court hearing after an investigation of 2 1/2 years. The only clear item is the Epilogue, which includes the court transcription, but, because it negates what we THINK we just read, it also becomes an item of ambiguity.
In the end, I wondered "Why?". The author shows promise, but the writing needs to be tightened down and there really should be something solid to hold the reader's interest. Pretty language with no real plot, or, at best, a plot that confuses the average reader and leaves them wondering what they missed, does not a great novel make.
QUOTES (from an ARC; may be different in final copy):
A sad and irreversible change had occurred, it seemed, and the great and open space which I had always felt within me, that I had thought, in fact, had been me, had disappeared, so finally that I could not hope, I thought, to resurrect it, or feel again that lightness at the exact centre of my heart as I had on so many occasions before.
It's funny, isn't i? The way that we always position ourselves at the centre of our own stories, and that even from some distance - even relegated to the third person, and, from the present tense at least two times removed - we continue to imagine ourselves in that way.
Napoleon's feet are, it turns out, no worse than anyone's. They are, all of them, bloody and white, with fungus and stuff that looks rotten. He's surprised about that, about how his are no worse when he'd thought his were the worst in the world. That there they had been, marching along, together, all of them with the very worst feet in the world.
Writing: 3 out of 5 stars
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Characters: 2 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 2 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars