Friday, January 1, 2010

The Given by Daphne Marlatt

In a story that begins in present day Vancouver, a mother's death leads a daughter to go back in memory to her teenage years, the 1950s, examining her mother's life from that viewpoint. The narrators' parents were British immigrants from Malaysia and her mother had difficulties adjusting to life as a homemaker with three daughters in North Van. The hopefulness and prosperity of that era are evoked - along with the major concerns of the time, like the Cuban missile crisis. Daphne Marlatt contrasts these scenes with present-day life for a lesbian in the same "world-class city." Slogans and newspaper headlines are incorporated into the text, along with brief excerpts from writers like Virginia Woolf and Marguerite Duras.

When I was about 1/3 of the way into the narrative, I still could not say what exactly it was that I was reading. Was it fiction? Autobiography? Was it poetry or not? I examined the back cover, where it is called a "haunting and multi-layered long poem which reads with all the urgency and depth of a novel." So there you go. I loved it and I'm very pleased to start 2010 with such a fine book.

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