Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bottle Rocket Hearts - Book Review

Since I’m writing about a very honest book, I need to start this review with some honesty of my own: I didn’t buy Zoe Whittall’s Bottle Rocket Hearts; I borrowed it from the library. But after reading it, I wish I had bought it because this is one of those rare books that I would reread.

Originally release in 2007, Bottle Rocket Hearts has been getting a lot of buzz lately in part because it’s one of CBC Canada Reads 2011’ top 10 choices. Next year’s theme is “Novels of the Decade” and other shortlisted books include The Life of Pi and The Book of Negroes. BRH’s author was also voted as Toronto’s top writer in Now Magazine’s recent readers’ choice awards.

All of this makes me very happy to have picked this book back in earlier this fall for my November book club meeting. We’re seeing each other on Sunday and I’m very curious to find out what the others think of it.

This is essentially a coming-of-age story, focused around 18/19-year-old Eve. It does deal with typical coming-of-age material:  school, roommates, first love, first heartbreak, but in a way that’s not cloying or irritating. And while you might not be able to relate to the specifics of Eve’s life, you will most likely be able to relate to her on a basic, been-there-level. This is, if nothing else, a genuinely honest book.

It’s also a very smooth and quick read. While the overall style is quite clear and contemporary, every now and then there’s a line or a description that gives away Whittall’s poetry background. It’s not always the prettiest or elegant writing style but it is one that again, is honest, and completely suits the characters and their lives.

Another thing I really liked about this book was how entrenched it was in its time and location: Montreal in 1995-1996. I didn’t live in Montreal then but I certainly remember many of the events and figures, big and small, which are mentioned in this book, everything from the Spice Girls to Jacques Parizeau’s infamous referendum defeat speech.

I did of course have a few issues with this story; the biggest one being the end. Obviously I can’t go into that in too much detail here but I’m really looking forward to discussing the last few chapters with my book club members and seeing what they think.

Still, the rest of the book more than makes up for what I’ll simply call a “lackluster” ending (though one that, to be fair, does make sense plot- and character-wise) and if you’re looking for a good novel to read, I encourage you to pick this one up.

Also, if you live in Toronto, you’ll want to definitely read Whittall’s second novel, Holding Still For As Long As Possible, which in set in Toronto, and more specifically Parkdale, in 2005 (if I remember correctly). While not quite as strong as Bottle Rocket Hearts, it’s still a great book that more than worth your time. 

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