Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Reader's Diary #946- David Bergen: The Age of Hope

Finally, I've finished all of this year's Canada Reads contenders. And, if I had to make just one complaint, it's that all the books are on the boring side. Plots are thin, if existent at all, there's nary a joke to be found, and good luck finding any pulse pounding drama or romantic scenes. I'm not suggesting that Canada Reads needs to go all genre fiction, but in past years we had the acerbic satire of Mordecai Richler and the frightening dystopia of Margaret Atwood. We had a drug addicted teenage prostitute and a man in a boat with a tiger. We had poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and a graphic novel. This year we get CanLit. The CanLit that causes people to groan— the same groan they groan for reduced sodium chips and lite beer.

Interestingly, it hasn't stopped people from sorting through them and picking their favourites. From all the discussions I've seen, February and Indian Horse come up the most, closely followed by Away. The Age of Hope and Two Solitudes definitely seem to be the underdogs. Oddly, The Age of Hope seems to be the one most singled out for having the problems I spoke of above, as if it's the best representative of why this year's contenders are so dull.

Odder still, I kind of enjoyed it. It started off very slow. A woman from Manitoba named Hope marries young after a cliched and almost unbelievably innocent (even for the time, the 1940s) courtship. The marriage is light on romance, heavy on practicality. Then of course, as is the same story that's been told time and time again this past decade, she soon finds that there's something unfulfilling about her existence. She was simultaneously bored yet feeling the pressure to be and think a certain way.

I read one reviewer remark that there wasn't enough character development. It's true that Hope lives inside her head for the most part. She over thinks, over analyzes, yet somehow doesn't change nor seem to learn a great deal about herself (I can relate to this). She's a very static character. But the stereotype began to wear off. There was a near affair. There was an abortion. Yet nothing rises to level of plot, just mere episodes. It wasn't all Norman Rockwell but it wasn't quite Far From Heaven either. I can get why some people might find this to be a boring book. Hell, it was a boring book. But compared to the other boring books in this year's Canada Reads, I didn't mind it. It felt honest, almost like people watching, only more personal. The writing wasn't as beautiful or as rich in observation as February, but it was probably my second favourite book. Of the five.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the title. I got my back up when I realized the main character was Hope. Overly convenient character names was one of the reasons I hated Ami McKay's Birth House so much, so I was skeptical. But I have known people in real life named Hope and the wordplay in the title is really not beaten to death through the course of the book, and I was easily able to overlook it.

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