May 30, 2010

Yellowknife - Steve Zipp

Imagine my surprise and delight when, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from Steve Zipp earlier this month, asking if I would like a copy of his book, Yellowknife.

And imagine my even greater delight (though not so much surprise) when I read the book and loved it!

I must confess that initially, I was a bit nervous to review a book sent to me by an author, but after reading his comments on another blog review, I was reassured that an honest opinion would be OK.

This book was also shortlisted for the National Post "Canada Also Reads" in March of this year - you can read that review here.

It seemed to be a very-much character driven, rather than a plot driven book, and oh the characters! From a drifter who develops a taste for dogfood; to a mosquito researcher who falls through the ice in the dead of winter; to a wildlife biologist who becomes catatonic in the basement of her office building after breaking up with her fiance; to a woman who spent her childhood walking and hitchhiking across Canada with her mother to return north; to a group of fish hijackers. There isn't any one main plot-line, but rather a half-dozen or so plots that all tied together in the end.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the humour, most of it bordering on the absurd. A secret underground society; an underground caribou herd; the above-mentioned fish hijackers; Ol' Slavey, the monster of Great Slave Lake; a mosquito research institute with a researcher on the hunt for white mosquitoes that are active in the winter (only in Canada!). Many parts were laugh-out-loud funny, including this, one of my favourite examples, which I shared with my sister as I was reading it:
"His name was Hugo Poisson, and he worked for the Mosquito Research Institute. Most of his summer was spent in the field marking mosquitoes with dots of paint so he could chart their ever-changing flyways. They migrated in the same fashion as caribou, forming hoards instead of herds, and the information he gathered was considered so vital to tourism that it was incorporated every year in the Explorer's Map."

The only plot line that I was disappointed in was that of Nora, one of the wildlife biologists. She was initially my favourite character; strong, intelligent, and funny. Her story took a twist when she broke up with her fiance and he disappeared, and she gradually became catatonic not leaving her basement office in one of the government buildings, even when her office was moved into a cave. But then, lickity-split, she finds out that she is pregnant, snaps out of it, becomes boring and marries a boring guy, then moves to Ottawa a third of the way through the book, and is never heard from again. I kept hoping that she would pop up again, but no such luck.

But that was only a minor detraction from my overall enjoyment of the book. I know that the characters are going to stay with me for a long time; and between my reading of this, as well as Late Nights on Air a few years ago, I really must visit Yellowknife at some point to see how accurate the portrayals are! I am intrigued...

Steve - if you are reading this, thank you for sharing your book with me. I hope that you will write more books, and I look forward to reading them!

8 comments:

John Mutford said...

Kate: If you do visit Yellowknife (and I recommend that you do), you've got yourself an unofficial tour guide.

Wanda said...

Got to the "end of winter" and stopped. I also received Yellowknife and will be back to read your review once I've read the book. I'm keeping it as my reward for getting through a few others first ...

B.Kienapple said...

I fell in love with Yellowknife when I visited a few years back. I've got to read this!

Kate said...

John - thanks for the offer - I may take you up on it some day!

Wanda - I think that you will enjoy it.

B. Kienapple - definitely track down a copy to read!

Anonymous said...

How in sam heel does one obtain solicitation to review a book BY THE AUTHOR?
Man alive ... that's pretty sweet!
- sister sarah (only, erm, not your sister, i'm practising for July)

Kate said...

Dada Sarah - if only I knew!

Wanda said...

Kate: You were right, I loved it! I wasn't so much dissapointed with Nora's plot line as I was surprised by Neptune's narrative.

Kate said...

Wanda - glad you enjoyed it :-) I was checking out a job ad for Yellowknife recently (soooo not going to happen, but I can always dream!) and thinking of this book.