Read Recently: Extraordinary

Title: Extraordinary
Author: David Gilmour
Published in 2013 by Patrick Crean editions, a division of HarperCollinsCanada
Read on January 1, 2014
Recommended by: the Giller Prize award committee (long list)

Synopsis from the publisher:

“Over the course of one Saturday night, a man and his half-sister meet at her request to spend the evening preparing for her assisted death. They drink and reminisce fondly, sadly, amusingly about their lives and especially her children, both of whom have led dramatic and profoundly different lives. Extraordinary is a gentle consideration of assisted suicide, but it is also a story about siblings — about how brothers and sisters turn out so differently; about how little, in fact, turns out the way we expect. In the end, this is a novel about the extraordinary business of being alive.”

Review:

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll notice that I’m a fan of wordiness. I like the taste of lots of adjectives in a row, and I like listing things in multiples, but verbosity is not David Gilmour’s racket.

Sometimes, you read a book of such beautiful simplicity that it makes you understand what being a storyteller truly means. I’m certain one blog or another has made some wordplay witticism about the book living up to its title, so I’ll not put to much time into that endeavour here. Instead, I’ll tell you that Extraordinary is one of the loveliest pieces of literature I’ve read in a long time.

Now, this author got a lot of (deserved) flack recently for stating openly that he only teaches authors who are “serious heterosexual guys” (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/sep/27/author-david-gilmour-female-writers). What a disappointment. However, my new knowledge of his prejudices haven’t erased my enjoyment of this book.

I was a bit surprised that the book didn’t make a more political statement about assisted suicide, but in the end I thought it stood well on the implied – let’s call it “pro-choice” – framing of the issue, without an overt endorsement. The assisted suicide, though the catalyst for the characters’ interactions, felt more like a supplementary story line to the relationship between brother and sister.

As always:

If you’re a friend, I’ll lend it to you. If you’re not, please visit one of your charming, musty, local libraries. If you want to own it for yourself, try your hardest to GO TO A BOOKSTORE instead of an online retailer. (As a former bookseller, I must plead with you to keep those wondrous book havens alive). If at all possible, make it an independent bookstore, but in a pinch, even the giant corporate books/music/housewares/wrapping paper/Starbucks monstrosities will do.

S.E. Lund

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