A Good House

A Good House

Book - 2000
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A runaway #1 bestseller in Canada, this richly layered first novel tells the story of the intricacies and rituals that shape a family's life over three generations

A Good House begins in 1949 in Stonebrook, Ontario, home to the Chambers family. The postwar boom and hope for the future colors every facet of life: possibilities seem limitless for Bill, his wife, Sylvia, and their three children.

In the fifty years that follow, the possibilities narrow into lives, etched by character, fate, and circumstance. Sylvia's untimely death marks her family indelibly but in ways only time will reveal. Paul's perfect marriage yields an imperfect child. Daphne unabashedly follows an unconventional path, while Patrick discovers that his happiness requires a series of compromises. Bill confronts the onset of old age less gracefully than anticipated, and throughout, his second wife, Margaret, remains, surprisingly, the family anchor.
With her remarkable ability to probe the hidden, often disturbing landscapes of love and to illuminate the complexities of human experience, Bonnie Burnard brings to her deceptively simple narrative a clarity that is both moving and profound.
Publisher: New York : H. Holt, 2000.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780805064957
Branch Call Number: BURN
Characteristics: 309p. 24cm.


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Nov 04, 2017

70 words, six commas, four dashes, one period. That is the opening sentence of Bonnie Burnard's "A Good House." People laugh whenever I describe a book as having simply-too-many-words but I will forever be able to present this book as the ideal example.

Burnard writes in two extremes: painfully describing every minute detail of the setting while managing to withhold more than the starkest insight into any of the character's thoughts and motivations- a rather impressive feat for a book written in the third person omniscient and filled with so many other banal descriptions of place. There is a great story to be found amidst all the clutter. Sadly, one has to sift through so much chaff to get to the wheat that the pleasure of reading is quickly turned into work of the hard-labour sort.

The character of Margaret is the one thing that kept me even remotely interested in reading the story; she quickly became my favourite female character of all the books I've read this year. She is an everywoman with whom I easily identified. Margaret is the reason this book gets two stars instead of the one star that I am so tempted to impart on this bit of prolix prose.

Apr 01, 2015

I like the meandering style of this family story.

I was rather partial to the story gaps, where chapters would start 2-9 years later and you are left to catch up on what had happened and what was happening. I found it an enticing way to read a story.

The almost never judgmental love that is portrayed in the story is a nice change from the often dysfunctional families in so many books.

I also like how, for the most part, the entire story focuses on the people in the family. Not on the changing world around them or even how those changes are effecting them. It's just about family dynamics through 50 years of love, tragedy, marriage, divorce, death and children.

May 17, 2010

Winner of the 1999 Giller Prize.

This won the Giller Prize because it was different. Its entirely narrative style avoids sentimentality and never exceeds a calm flow as it describes the tragedies of being human. The same distance that gives this book its literary strength is also its greatest weakness: we are kept so far back from the characters that I want to shout out “Why?” across the gulf that separates us.


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