Thursday, November 26, 2009

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Nineteen-year-old Lisamarie Hill has a gift. Ever since she was a child, she has seen ghosts, has had prophetic dreams and has been visited by a little man with bright red hair - the spirit of a cedar tree. Since this gift seems mostly to be connected with death, it isn't something that Lisa is happy about.

At the start of the story, Lisa's younger brother Jimmy is missing. He was on a fishing boat that has disappeared off the coast of British Columbia. Her parents travel mostly by plane from their home in Kitamaat to Namu, where they will be closer to the search for survivors. Lisa dreams that Jimmy is at Monkey Beach, and decides to go there on a speed boat - an all-day trip - to look for him.

Much of the story consists of flashbacks to Lisa's childhood. There are so many secrets to uncover. It is a haunting mystery, a page-turner told with grit and humour. It is outstanding.

Dr. Keavy Martin, Professor of Aboriginal Literature at the University of Alberta, talked about Monkey Beach at a Canadian Literature Centre public lecture yesterday. Everyone in the audience was given a map of B.C. so that we could follow along as Martin read from the novel, a part where Robinson instructs the reader to locate a map and gives directions to find the Haisla territory and the village of Kitamaat. Martin spoke about the appeal factors of this book and why, of Robinson's three works so far, it is the one most commonly studied. In Monkey Beach, the reader learns details of traditional Haisla culture, like how oolichan fish are prepared, and legends of the B'gwus (the sasquatch). There is the gothic, ghost story aspect. It is also a coming-of-age story, something that has universal appeal.

Grade 9 to adult.

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