By Nancy Huston
Published: Oct., 2008; Grove Press
Synopsis: Winner of France's Prix Femina and shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Huston's 12th novel captures four generations of a family and examines the decades-long fallout of a dark family secret. The novel proceeds in reverse chronological order from 2004 to 1944 and begins with six-year-old Sol, who is sheltered and coddled by his mother as he immerses himself in all the perversities the Internet can offer. After surgery to remove Sol's congenital birthmark turns out poorly, the extended family takes a trip to great-grandmother Erra's childhood home in Munich. A turbulent history underlies the visit, and after Sol witnesses a tussle between his great-grandmother and great-aunt, the novel skips backwards in time through the childhood of Sol's father, Randall; grandmother Sadie; and finally Erra.
My Take: I picked up this book in my quest to slowly make my way through all the books shortlisted for the Orange Prize and I am so glad I did. I haven't read any by Nancy Huston before and this book was unlike anything I had read previously.
The book's narrators are all 6-year-olds within the same family who go backwards in time telling us slowly about the history of their family. I enjoyed this method. It was unconventional and it made me work for the story.
Normally, I don't like stories told by small children. If they are over 12 it's fine, but younger then that and they tend to be annoying and we don't get the whole picture which is what happened with the first section of the book. Sol, our first narrator, is in the modern time. He is a whiny, spoiled child who thinks he is, literally, the next Jesus. His mom kind of thinks he is too. I thought if I was going to have to read much more about Sol's take on the world I would throw the book across the room. Luckily, he was only 1/4 of the book and the rest made up for it so beautifully that I ended up loving it!
You find out why Sol's father acts the way he does when it's his chapter as a child and then so on back through time until we reach the end of WWII and his family's time in Germany. For me, I kept thinking, wouldn't that explain so much about adults if we could really know what their childhood was like because so often those experiences truly do make them who they are as adults.
Also, can we talk for a moment about the cover? How hauntingly beautiful is that little girl? My guess is she is our last narrator, Erra, but I'll never really know.
(I got this book from paperbackswap.com)