CanadaReads: The Age of Hope by David Bergen


The Age of Hope

I always think that I am a fan of David Bergen until I actually read him. I feel the same way about Ian McEwan. They are both highly praised, award winning literary writers, and yet I tend to walk away from their books feeling a little meh. It was with that in mind that I launched into The Age of Hope by David Bergen for Canada Reads.

The novel is not a real page turner. It is about a woman’s life as a wife and mother starting in the 1950’s. To say that not much really happens in the novel might be a little of an understatement. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the story is Hope’s on going battle with mental illness. At various points in her marriage she is institutionalized and receives electroshock therapy. I found these episodes fascinating due to my interest in mental illness, but they were not enough to sustain the novel.

Although I am not a real fan of The Age of Hope, I am impressed by Bergen’s writing. The whole thing is written from the point of view of a bored stay at home wife and mother, and I think Bergen captures that voice precisely. One would almost think that Bergen himself is a bored house wife. The tone and mood he creates are dead on, the problem is it’s just not something i want to read about.

One big question remains: How will The Age of Hope do in Canada Reads? Difficult to say. It is being championed by Ron MacLean, and lets face it Ron MacLean can hold his own against Don Cherry, so I think he will be able to argue persuasively in the arena of Canada Reads. But will that be enough? I don’t think the novel can stand on its own against the other contenders, but we shall see.

Who would like this book? Good question. Obviously readers of Canadian literary fiction will read The Age of Hope regardless of what I say. And they should – I am all for supporting Canadian arts. Beyond that, I would recommend this novel to those who like moody prose more than plot driven tales. And of course, it is required reading for fans of Canada Reads.

Stray Love by Kyo Maclear

strayloveKyo Maclear is one of those writers who has floated just below my radar for some time now and I’m not quite sure why. Her first novel for adults was The Letter Opener. I was always attracted to it, but never picked it up. I don’t know why. So when Stray Love came out I was more than just a little bit curious.

At its heart Stray Love is about the search for identity. Each of the characters is a little bit lost, a little bit unhinged, and searching for who they may be and who they may belong to. The protagonist is a boy of unknown and mixed ethnic origin raised by a man who is not his father after his mother runs away. However, he is only one character searching for where he fits int he world. Mixed and unknown parentage is a recurring theme for many of the characters.

I didn’t love Stray Love but I am certainly glad I read it. The writing is solid, though I found the ending to be a bit unresolved. I wanted a little bit more about the protagonist’s present day life. One can imagine that his life may arch towards happiness if the right decision is made, but one does not know for sure.

Who would like this book? One of my favorite aspects of this novel is that the locations – London and Saigon – play such an important role in the telling of the story. This will be a recurring theme in my reviews –  I love to travel whether it is in real life or in a book. Stray Love also gives important insight into issues of race and acceptance in 1960s England. However, if you are looking for a happy feel good read, this may not be the novel for you. Characters’ issues are left unresolved and I wonder if any of them will ever find true happiness and get past the scars of an unfulfilled childhood.