Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reader's Diary #450- David Bergen: The Retreat

Last year, my Manitoba book for the Canadian Book Challenge was David Bergen's The Time In Between. This year, I decided to follow it up with his latest novel, the Retreat.

I think a large part of my attraction to The Time In Between was because I hadn't been familiar with Bergen's writing style. He seems to get a lot of credit for writing in spare prose, avoiding overly flowery language. I'd agree with that for the most part. There are details, but they're told in a matter of fact way that often seem written only to set the scene. In this way, he reminds me of Stephen King. However, occasionally he throws in a more substantial sentence that you might miss if you're not paying attention. In this way, he reminds me of Brueghel's "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus."

However, as much as that impressed me the first time around, this time around I was able to focus on the story more. Unfortunately the story came up short.

The Retreat had a lot of great story fragments, but none seemed to get the focus they deserved. Just after finishing the book, I heard Bergen being interviewed on the CBC and he referred to Lizzy as the main character. Certainly she gets more of the spotlight than the other characters, but why I'm not sure. She's no more compelling than the others. She was also probably the least believable. Falling in love with a native boy, I understand that she's supposed to be more open- minded than some of the other characters, especially those that told her she could do better. However, that she never questions a future with him, let alone consider the resistance they will surely face from an obviously racist society, feels beyond naivete; it feels fake. Additional plots, with much more interesting characters, started to pop up, but all fizzled or were left up in the air at the end.

It was a good book, but with some tightening up, could have been a great book.


Teddy Rose said...

I've really been looking forward to this book. It's too bad that it fell short. It sounds like it's still worthwhile and I will get to it one of these days.

Thanks for the review!

Anonymous said...

You've been nominated.

Kailana said...

I have had this book since it came out, but haven't been very successful in reading it! I wasn't super impressed with his first book, but thought I would try again.

Zachariah Wells said...

I heard him read from this book a few months ago. He was on the same stage as Bill Gaston and Rawi Hage. If I were to rank that reading, Bergen was a distant third. A generous take on it would be that the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts or that the pleasures of Bergen's prose are more subtle than those of Gaston and Hage. But life is short and books are many. I only picked up Hage's book that night, and I wasn't disappointed with my choice.

Wanda said...

Of the two David Bergen books you've reviewed, I'm glad it's 'The Time In Between' I have waiting to be read.

John Mutford said...

Teddy Rose: I'd not not recommend it.

Thatsthebook: Thanks! Headed there now...

Kailana: If you weren't impressed before, I doubt this one will win you over either. But who knows.

Zachariah: I remember your post about that evening. It certainly made me want to read Hage more than ever-- though I still haven't.

Wanda: It's my pick of the two, but as I said, a lot of the attraction was the novelty of his style. Perhaps whichever I'd picked first would have been the one I prefered.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is pretty much exactly how I felt about The Retreat.

It felt as though it was a book of missed opportunities, by the writer, not the characters. Had Bergen delved more deeply into the historical aspects of that summer instead of just as asides and plot devices, it could have been much stronger.