On a chilly but star filled autumn evening a surprising and gratifying number of book club members and esteemed guest gathered at the warm, lovely, contemporary and Art filled home in Tiglio to discuss the novel Canada, by Richard Ford. The meal was magnificent as always.
The story is told by the twin son of parents who have robbed a bank, their individual histories, lives in a small north western town and the lead up to the bank robbery, after which his parents are jailed, his twin sister disappears and he is secretly exiled to, yes, Canada.
Salene led the comments with her impression that it seemed of two contradictory stories, one, of the lonely miserable detached but intact family unit and then: the robbery. It was heavy going, she reported. At times, lonely, desperate but yet the writing was unfeeling, lacked emotional charge. Isobel found it easy to read, but voiced what others did, she had a sense it was two girl twins, which spoke to the lack of connection engendered by the writing. Helen found it frustrating, she had little patience for the characters, found them naive, not plausible. Margaret was unable to engage with the story, nothing was described in color, it had no redeeming feature, it seemed pedestrian. Anne found it depressing.
The work on Canada took Ford twenty years, with the author stating that he took inspiration from several different sources. Ford stated that some of the elements in the book, such as the feeling of “not [being] connected with the larger forces of a culture I was by accident born into”, were drawn from his personal experiences. He also expressed an interest in the aftermath and consequences of crimes such as murder and robberies, and the effect they have on the young family members of the perpetrators, as well as the “closeness to which normal life bears upon felonious life”.
On the positive side, Pietro Bianchessi kindly forwarded his thoughts by email:
I loved the book from the start.
the story of a bank robbery told from one of the children of the robbers. How it could happen that a “normal” middle class couple would gradually be pulled into committing a robbery, in order to sort out their financial problems. I identified strongly with the 15 year old boy, who in one second sees his certainties (his mum and dad, his family) disintegrate. I felt his fears, I thought his thoughts.
such a perfect, accurate description of the characters. The father, the happy-go-around, not a bad guy, certainly not a bank robber, but someone who cant accept to show the world he’s a looser.
The mother, I can see her, petite, glasses, jewish, teacher, with moral principles, and practical common sense. How could she have been drawn into this? A bank robbery?
The twin sister, with the usual brother sister love-hate situation. I can see her running away from the family troubles with the first boy who’s paying attention to her, even if he’s a bad guy.
Beautiful prose, beautiful English writing, and yet easy to understand even for a non English native speaker like myself.
I found the second part of the book, up in Canada, in a wooden shed, in a small place in the middle of nowhere, a bit less convincing, yet I still loved the story and went quickly to the end of the book.
I’d give it 8/10 or even 9/10!
Much appreciated Pietro.
So, as is often the case, opinion was divided, which is what makes for interesting book club meetings.
After discussion of which classic we should read next, the suggestions ranging from Kafka, Dickens, Austen, and others, we settled on Domby and Son, by Charles Dickens. But also worth mention were some of the other titles suggested for general reading: Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, a must read for its description of the effects of alcoholism on family members; Play it Again, by Alan Rusbridger; Honorary Counsel, Graham Greene; The Lie, Helen Dunmore; and finally we settled on Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, for our January meeting. Somehow the discussion also included a mention of Zeffirelli’s Tea with Mussolini. Another interesting divergence.
The next meetings are as follows:
November 20th: The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom, at Anne Capanni’s
December: Domby and Son, by Charles Dickens, date and venue to be announced
January: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, date and venue to be announced
Thank you very much to all who participated and to Helen for superb hosting.
The Barga Book Club site can be seen here