Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Malahat reviews The English Stories

A nice review in what I assume is the current Malahat of Cynthia Flood's The English Stories. Interestingly, the reviewer seems to treat it, at different times, as both a novel and as a collection. It works, I suppose, much as Ray Smith's Century does, as both. Here's to hoping -- come on you BC Book Award jurors! -- that Carol Matthews is right, and the book does indeed earn further distinctions.

Reading The English Stories ... one hears an echo of Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women in the steady voice and sharp eye of the main narrator, Amanda Ellis. uprooted from her predictable life in Toronto and Muskoka, Amanda is transplanted to England for a tw0-year stint while her parents conduct research for the "big book about the Romantic poets" that her father is ostensibly writing. They settle into a small residential hotel with tiny rooms containing obese or skeletal old ladies and men with scarlet knuckles and jagged nails. Called the Green House, the hotel is appropriately named for this time of growth and development during which Amanda experiences all the twists and turns of the classic bildungsroman: a move away from home, clashes of values, questioning of beliefs, awareness of sexuality, and a search for identity and an occupation.
Disappointment resonates through most of these lives. Unrealized hopes, unrequited love, unsatisfactory careers, and unfinished books are take for granted and accepted without complaint but, surprisingly, the last word in the novel is joy. ... Flood is a gifted writer who combines intelligent description and poignant portraits to create a rich tableau of people, of places. ... The English Stories, a thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted collection, deserves further distinctions.

- Carol Matthews

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