DIVISADERO by Michael Ondaatje

‘It is the 1970s in Northern California. A farmer and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work the land with the help of Coop, the enigmatic young man who lives with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until they are riven by an incident of violence – of both hand and heart – that ‘sets fire to the rest of their lives’. This is a story of possession and loss, about the often discordant demands of family, love, and memory. Written in the sensuous prose for which Michael Ondaatje’s fiction is celebrated, Divisadero is the work of a master story-teller.’
Amazon’s plot synopsis for Divisadero is, literally, only the half of it: the first half, to be precise. This sums up, in a nutshell, the main issue for our group: was Divisadero a novel, or three short stories cobbled together? Gathered in the cosy bar of The Castle Hotel (our usual venue was closed for renovations), we enjoyed many aspects of Divisadero – Ondaatje’s lyricism and poetry, his evocative landscapes, and his characters – but there was frustration with the structure. We could see the connections and the echoes between the stories, and it could be argued that the structure reflected the fractured stories of characters whose lives were fractured by one, apocalyptic incident, but the majority opinion of those of us who had read and loved The English Patient, was that this novel (?) didn’t quite work.
Martin could not attend but sent a review: ‘I was greatly intrigued by the prospect of a farmer, which I understood to be a pretty full on occupation; feeding, changing, entertaining and otherwise caring for 2 newborn babies (Breed one, get one free?) and then adopting even if informally a 4 year old. Regrettably this astonishing feat was left unexplained. The later years of their upbringing was a little predictable with a follow up on gambling and drug taking neither of which have ever appealed. The book then moved entirely to France with a whole new cast of unrelated characters. I could not follow the French connection at all, nor could I relate it to our incredibly resourceful farmer whose heroic feats were so cruelly glossed over earlier. I fear I may be too old for books lacking a beginning, middle and end in the traditional sequence.’
This month’s recommendations from our members:
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
My Brilliant Friend, one of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels
Vanity Fair
Karl Ove Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ series of novels
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Next month we will be discussing Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan.

Ann Coburn


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About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

April 2016
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