February 22, 2009

Barnacle Love - Anthony De Sa

This is the fifth and final Giller nominee, my reading of all of the shortlisted books having been interrupted by a few library books.

This book is different from the others, in that it is a collection of 10 interconnected short stories - each one can be read independently of the others, but read together they form the portrait of a family.  In the first half of the book, the head of the family, Manuel, arrives in Newfoundland in the mid-1950s after being "lost overboard" from a Portuguese fishing boat and gradually builds a life for himself in his adopted country.  His background is gradually revealed - his abuse by the parish priest as a child, his mother's reluctance for him to move away from his village and her rejection of his wife, and Manuel's eventual rejection of his mother.

The second half of the the book is set a few years later in the late 1970's as Manuel's children struggle to live a double life - as "normal" Canadian children when out of the house, while being the children of immigrants when at home.  This is where the tone of the book focuses.  Manuel's hopeful ideals of his new country are being shattered, as he comes to grips with the lack of reality of his dream.  I think that is where the crux lies - Manuel always had a "dream" of a life in Canada, but that dream was never defined, not even to himself.  So an undefined dream can never be fulfilled.

Very good writing in this book, and an interesting plot and characters, but the story probably won't stay with me beyond the reading.  It was a great story while I was reading it, but somehow, it just wasn't that memorable (and I only just finished it an hour ago).  And I also found the ending to be very clumsy.  Almost as if the writer was thinking "In writing school, they told us that ambiguous endings would make the readers think, and therefore your book will make a greater impression."

Now on to sum up the nominees....

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