Tag Archives: Dennis Bock

Sunday Night Ramblings: After a binge of Giller Prize short-listed books, what next?

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The past two weeks featured reading focused in the Giller Prize short list. I managed to read Lisa Moore’s Caught and Dennis Bock’s Going Home Again because the final gala and I finished Craig Davidson’s Cataract City the week after. I did buy the rest of the short list, but it is actually my husband’s Christmas present so I will have to be a bit patient and give him a chance to read Lynn Coady and Dan Vyleta before I can get my hands on those books. And don’t worry, he does not read my blog so it’s unlikely he will find out.

As I was travelling last week and had to endure some business-travel-related boredom and need to escape, I bought the lastest Robin Cook novel, Nano. I thought that might worth a read, an exciting mystery featuring cutting-edge technology… except I have read way too much of that genre in my life and I really did not find anything new in this book. In fact, much of the plot and characters seemed like a transposition of Coma, the book that contributed to putting Robin Cook on the map. While I added some words to my vocabulary, such as microbivores and respirocytes, the weak plot and even weaker characters (the womanizing boss!) were really disappointing. This does not mean I will never ever buy another Robin Cook every again… but it might take a while.

One author I have not read much is Tom Clancy. Given he died recently, his name has come back to my attention. I did love The Hunt for Red October and I remember reading some of it on a quiet day when I was temping for an air-conditioning company back when I was eighteen. I do have a question though: Do you have to read the Jack Ryan novels in order and can one start with the lastest novel published in 2012? The nerd in me says “better read in the right order”…

In any case, I did go back this weekend to the novel I was reading before the Giller called for my attention. So my head is back in Estonia with Sofi Oksanen and Lorsque les colombes disparurent. The question that comes to me right now, as I am writing, is why the title talks about doves (“colombes” means doves) when the German officers keep eating pigeons in fancy restaurants in Tallin. Maybe it’s because the doves have all gone… literally as birds and source of food, as well as symbols of peace. This book is certainly fascinating, with its exploration of the intricacies of life under successive totalitarian regimes and the struggles to survive of ordinary citizens, resistance fighters and collaborators.

I was also in the middle of P.O. Enquist’s Hess, about Rudolf Hess, which fits in nicely thematically with the Sofi Oksanen book. But there are some many more interesting books awaiting me on the shelves, in addition to work-related books about learning, leadership, change management and diversity… My, oh my, so much choice…

And the Montreal book fair will be on this week and I plan to go at least on Friday, but who knows… I might end up spending some of next weekend there as well.

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Dennis Bock, Going Home Again

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This is my second read from the Giller Prize short list, a short novel whose protagonist is a middle-aged man with a teenage daughter who just separated from his Spanish wife. After living in Spain for 20 years, he returns to his native Toronto to start a new language school and extend the business he has been successful in growing in several European countries. This return home is an occasion to reconnect with his estranged brother, who is also going through marital woes of his own. And an old love with a complex history resurfaces and stirs up old feelings. This novel illustrates a number of questions such as where is home, what is love, how does it differ from friendship, what is the true nature of our relationships with family members, what do kids really understand of their parents’ troubles, to what extent do partners really share information about past history, what makes a solid home, what does success mean, etc. This goes much beyond the first level of the story which may appear to be about midlife crisis. While the plot may look somewhat simplistic (our protagonist eventually goes “home” to his wife), the book is more about the complexity of the multiple interactions and meanings each life is built from than it is about plot.

Lisa Moore, Caught

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In preparation to the announcement of the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize on Tuesday, November 5, I am doing a pre-Giller reading binge. I bought three of the short-listed works: Caught, by Lisa Moore, Going Home Again, by Dennis Bock, and Cataract City, by Craig Davidson. I had not yet read anything by any of the authors whose works were nominated to the short list this year. Since last year, I had only read the winning entry after the announcement, I thought that his year, I should get into it a little bit more and discover more authors.

So far, it’s been pretty good. I have usually liked the books I have picked from the Giller short list, with one exception that we don’t need to name here. I’ve managed to finish Caught, and I am 65% through Going Home Again.

Lisa Moore’s Caught reads like an adventure novel. It tells two parallel stories. First there is David Slaney, an escaped convict who is reconnecting with the childhood friend who first contributed to getting him in trouble to have another run at bringing in a huge load of marijuana from Columbia. Second, there is law-enforcer Patterson who is trying to catch him and on whose success depend a possible promotion and raise that would help him take care of some personal obligations, one of which is the long term care of his mentally handicapped brother. The end is not much of a surprise, as there are many warnings that it will happen, and David gets caught again. He ends up spending another 20 years in prison.

The character of David Slaney is fascinating. While he is shown in a scene where he must negotiate the price and transfer of the load of marijuana in Columbia as a wily negotiator, he is certainly not a hardened criminal. He abhors violence and is greatly concerned with everyone’s safety. In fact, one must wonder about the reasons why he got involve in this kind of activity in the first place, apart from the challenge associated with it and the influence of his childhood friend Hearn for whom he has a deep love and sense of obligation. The latter feeling, in my opinion, is unwarranted and certainly not reciprocated by Hearn.

David’s constant longing for freedom and his fear of having to return to prison does not seem to drive him to walk away from the whole deal. He feels driven to stick to his word and forge ahead to the bitter end. In their first misadventure, Hearn got away by jumping bail. A twist of faith, an illegal move by the police, causes him to not undergo trial for the second misadventure. After that, David does not maintain contact with Hearn and does not answer his letters.

In last chapter, he gets out of prison and finds his way to Hearn’s office at the university where he is a professor of English. He does not knock on his office door and does not make contact with him. He returns to his mother’s house from where he will have to build a new life. The sadness that fills this character throughout the book of very touching. The author provides a very thoughtful description of the complexity of human sentiments and the messiness of the consequences of life choices. Caught is therefore far more than an adventure novel, it is also an exploration of the depth of the human soul, caught in treacherous undercurrents of events that one, in the end, does not control.