March 24, 2008



Wow. Really? I remember thinking this novel was really really awful when I read it. . .lots of figurative language that made me wince like: "I felt maggoty with insecurity." Will still be interested to see how it translates to the big screen. . .I bet it will make a great movie!


Obviously, there's no right and wrong in questions of taste but I thought the book magnificent, worthy of the many Ondaatje comparisons it garnered. Did you like The English Patient?


I did. . .but you're right to compare the two. I can easily see someone not liking the English Patient for the same reasons I didn't care for Fugitive Pieces.


I just finished (sort of) Fugitive Pieces after finding a reference to it in another book. The book ended for me when Jakob dies. I appreciate an author who wants to paint pictures with her words, as well as tell me a story.


I just finished (sort of) Fugitive Pieces after finding a reference to it in another book. The book ended for me when Jakob dies. I appreciate an author who wants to paint pictures with her words, as well as tell me a story.


I missed this when it played at the Toronto Film Festival (at any rate, I haven't read the book yet so that's probably a good thing). But the reviews were generally favourable.

Anna Clark

Thanks for the heads-up on this. I loved the novel, and unabashedly call it my favorite contemporary fiction read of the last couple years. A big piece of what I loved, though, was the language: it's evident that Michaels' native language is poetry. Lifted from those magnificent words and images and adapted as film, I wonder how much I'll like it.

Still, you can bet I'll be there opening day.

Lee Ward

I would have said there was no way they could capture the sublime poetry of the novel, and its slightly unexpected tripartite structure. But seeing Atonement has restored my faith in cinema's ability to do justice to complex novels. I'm very excited to see this!

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."