December 10, 2010

Essex County - Jeff Lemire

This is a book that has been generating a lot of buzz recently. I have read very positive reviews over at John's (Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3) and Wanda's (Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3) blogs; and now it is one of the finalists in the CBC Canada Reads competition.

I picked this book up on Wednesday evening, planning to read a few pages before going to bed, and by the time I turned the lights out, I was half-way finished this 510-page book! It was easy work to finish it up the next night. This is my second experience with a graphic novel (Persepolis being the first - though strictly speaking, it should be considered a graphic memoir), and a very enjoyable experience it was too.

There are 3 volumes - Tales from the Farm, Ghost Stories, and The Country Nurse - all collected in one volume with some "extras" (promotional material, early drafts etc). Tales from the Farm deals with a boy being raised by his uncle after his mother (who was a single mother) dies. He befriends the cashier at the local gas station, an ex-Leafs player, and fellow comic book lover. Ghost Stories is the tale of two brothers who play hockey together in Toronto in the early '50s, become estranged from each other, are re-united after tragedy strikes, and then become estranged again. And then The Country Nurse is the story of a home-care nurse, interwoven with the story of her grandmother, which ties the plot of all three volumes together.

I enjoyed the artwork for the most part, though sometimes I found the chunky black-and-white style a bit confusing (there is one picture that I had to turn back to 3 or 4 times to figure out what was being depicted). But it is the stories that are so poignant. My favourite of the volumes is probably Ghost Stories, and I found myself in tears a few times while reading it. And as far as the pictures go, I loved how the crow kept appearing throughout all of the stories. After all, what bird is more ubiquitous in Canada than the crow.

And that is, I think, what I liked most about this book - its Canadian-ness. I can't picture these stories being set anywhere other than rural southern Ontario. Farms, hockey, inter-generational histories, and yes, crows. Though I haven't read all of the other contenders for Canada Reads, I'm pretty sure that I am going to be rooting for this book.


John Mutford said...

Well you know my feelings on it. And like you, Ghost Stories was probably my favourite of the 3.

Kate said...

John - yes, you have made your opinions loud and clear to the CBC! And I am going to be rooting for you and this book when the debates are on next year.

Teddy Rose said...

Ghost Stories was my favourite as well! Great review!

Kate said...

Teddy Rose - Thanks!

I was in a bookstore with one of my sisters on Boxing Day, and she asked me what books she *had* to read. There on the shelf right in front of us was Essex County - needless to say, I made her buy this book and I can't wait to hear what she thinks of it.