Book Review: The Sentimentalists, Johanna Skibsrud, 2009

My leisure reading is usually limited to holidays so in making my title selections, I often look to the literary awards for guidance. I’ve read a few Booker Prize winners and have not been disappointed. I thought the Giller Prize jury was similarly gifted in its judgement, based on excellent past-winners such as Mordechai Richler’s “Barney’s Version” and Vincent Lam’s “Bloodletting and other Miraculous Cures.”

2010’s Gilller Winner, however, has sullied their reputation forever. Skibsrud’s novel is hardly deserving of being called that. At best, it is a writing exercise that should have remained in her personal workbooks.

Promising to be a mystery of sorts, unravelling the hazy memory of a Vietnam war veteran as he descends into dementia in his daughter’s care, the book does not deliver; anything.

Instead, it scampers around the details of a derelict town, a now-broken family life once cherished, and never develops a through-line the reader cares about. Not even the characters are interesting enough for us to want them to succeed or fail or live or die.

It is not often that I have two regrets after reading a book. With “The Sentamentalists” mine were that I selected it and secondly,  that I finished it.

 

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