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The first thing that stands out about this novel is the format. It might take a few chapters before you are convinced it is indeed a novel and not a series of short stories. It's definitely a novel, I promise, but the stories could indeed stand alone - they are beautifully crafted, and each is compelling.
In fact there are four separate storylines in the book. Angie and Margot are two young sisters who are on their way from their home to the store. The chapters devoted to the journey the sisters make are short, each approximately 5-10 minutes. They are the first characters met in the novel & their story introduces the theme of the novel: complicated sibling relationships.
Apart from the two sisters, the other characters are a mother & son, a married couple, and a brother and sister. In each, sibling relationships play a critical role. Angie and Margot get short segments, and we meet them in chapters 1, 3, 5, 7 & so on. The other pairs get longer chapters, less frequently. The longer chapters give a good amount of time to "bed in" those stories, but I have to admit that Angie & Margot claimed my heart from the beginning.
Novels in the format of stories that are interconnected aren't new, but this one is something very, very special. The prose is divine. It is dark, and if you haven't read the synopsis some of the revealed connections can be devastating. In chapter 8, after one revelation, I shouted "no!" at my phone, and quickly paused the story, to desperately try and undo what I thought had just happened. I hadn't read the publisher's synopsis - if I had, I might have kept my cool - although, even thinking about that part of the story now gives me shivers. I spent the rest of my evening repeating the mantra "these are all fictional characters, none of this actually happened". It didn't help.
It is brilliant, it turned me inside out and back again, partly for the prose, and partly for the stories. The connections between characters in different stories also turn out to be critical, even if they don't always seem it in the moment of revelation. I kept notes of characters names - it wasn't necessary, but some people might find it useful to have. It's worth going back over at the end of the book to see how each character is connected to the others.
It's fantastic that Audible Studios have backed this novel as an audiobook. It's one of those gems that really make me grateful for having read it. If the audio had come out when the novel was short listed for the Giller Prize it might have got more attention, but hopefully it will still find a lot of readers.
The audiobook is read, rather than performed, which means that dialogue is not characterised & it can take a moment to register which character is speaking. A reading also misses the additional context a performance brings, such as emphasis and punctuation. In this case the reading felt a little perfunctory to me, and I was disappointed that changes in scene weren't given a pause which meant I had to rewind a few times to take in that I was reading a new scene. Overall, the narration was underwhelming, particularly because I loved the book so much & feel it deserved better. The production quality was otherwise high and the reading was clear.
I think the translation was spectacular. To get the prose to sing the way it does Lenderhendler must've spent a lot of time finding just the right turn of phrase or word. I had a couple of niggles, in particular the use of the term "handicapped" to describe a character who has had amputations. "Handicapped" is an old fashioned and negative term and the setting was contemporary enough that (as a disabled person) I thought "disabled" would have been a better word choice. It's a minor issue but...still.
Hands down, this is a gorgeous weave of stories, brilliant characters and the prose is some of the best I have read. Even if you don't mind plot spoilers I recommend you don't read the publisher's synopsis; if you do I guarantee you'll still enjoy the novel, even knowing some of the major plot points. I can't guarantee you'll have your heart ripped from your chest the way that I did, but if you love style this has it in buckets.