Category Archives: House of Anansi
by Saleema Nawaz
House of Anansi, 2012
Bone and Bread prompted the longest discussion amongst our book club members of any book we have shared together. (That should prompt you to read it to check it out for yourself, I think.) There is so much to like about this book, and so much to question.
We all approved of the book overall, yet we all disliked at least one aspect of the book. Some of our reservations caused grave concern. Two of the plot developments, in particular, caused us to question the validity of the story. That’s a big problem. If we can’t believe the story, can we really celebrate it?
These plot developments would have worked in a magical book. If Nawaz had established early a mystical quality to the story, we would have bought in wholeheartedly, but this book has a tone of straight literary fiction, so implausible plot developments made us stop and say, “Really?”
Those big stumbling blocks aside, Nawaz writes beautifully and creates likeable, believable characters. She explores anorexia with clear compassion and writes about it in a way that both informs and entertains. Her story centers primarily, but not tiresomely, around the timeless themes of racial tensions and strained family relationships. Our book club members live in Ottawa and Montreal—the two cities featured in the story—so the settings resonated with us in a personal way.
I recommend approaching this book in a magical frame of mind. If you let the story be, it’s an enjoyable read.
by Alix Ohlin
House of Anansi, 2012
The first three chapters of Inside read like self-contained short stories. Each chapter features characters and settings with no apparent connection to those in the others. By chapter three, I asked myself, “Did I pick up a short story collection here?” and I checked the cover to confirm that Inside is a novel. Indeed, it is, but we don’ start to see the connections until chapter four. Ohlin takes a risk with this approach; readers disconnect if not fed well enough, soon enough.
I hung in there to see how everything would connect, but would everyone?
The book describes the intersecting lives of a Montreal therapist, her ex-husband, and one of her patients. Each story line involves people inserting themselves into the lives of another (invading?) in a way that feels uncomfortable, even unnatural, even unbelievable to an introvert like me.
None of these people lead happy, fulfilled lives. They seek compensation for their flaws through needy and manipulative interactions with others. By the end of the novel, they don’t evolve much despite living through circumstances that could have provided valuable life lessons.
I was left feeling unsatisfied, like I had never really stepped inside the characters to learn to understand them, never mind like them.
This book received good reviews in The Globe and Mail and Quill and Quire, but The New York Times eviscerated it. All are right in their own way. This book has weaknesses, and I didn’t love it, but this book has strengths, and I didn’t hate it. Read it yourself to see which way you fall.