Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach

I choose my books pretty carefully, because I’m painfully aware of just how many books are out there that I’ll never get the chance to read. At least, that's how I explain my rarely flagging good cheer about books I've just finished reading. Admittedly Orhan Pamuk and Chip Kidd both left me dreadfully cold, but those were obligation reads: they got very good reviews from trustworthy sources, so I tried them as well.

Monkey Beach might count as an obligation read, in that it's a critically and commercially successful novel about First Nations life on the BC coast, and hence precisely the sort of book I'm likely to read. I say that it might be an obligation read, except that where my usual tastes are concerned, I'm not all that worried about success. If the book is local and about environmental issues, especially with a First Nations link, then I'm going to read it. Critical success does make me worry that it's been overhyped, though.


Eden Robinson's debut novel Monkey Beach is a sensitive and gripping portrait of an individual, a family, a town, and a people as they collectively and singly navigate the strange new world that BC's First Nations occupy. Alcoholism and oolichan grease, B'gwus and rohypnol: my only worry is that I don't know what the next one can be about. Robinson's done a terrific job mining Kitimat for this story; I'm left wondering whether the next novel will be about the same characters, or whether she's going to discover that she hasn't left herself room to place any more fiction in the same place. I hope she does, because she's too good a writer to deserve to flounder for material, and there's lots left over around the fringes of Monkey Beach.

I wanted more resolution, I have to admit, but I'm sure that's just me. The interwoven narrative works really well, and the characters are rich - well worth spending lots of time with! I'm not going to say much, because it was nominated for both the Giller and the G-G when it came out several years ago, but I'd've nominated it for both awards as well. Seriously impressive.


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