April 8, 2011

three-bullet book review

Three-Bullet Book Review: CanLit Double-Double

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
  • accolades, awards, "Have you read A Fine Balance? Oh, you really should."
  • meandering narrative eased by smooth writing that lets you go with the flow
  • very interesting historical setting


No. Despite the rave reviews, I have now abandoned this novel twice. The first time I tried to read it, I got about 60 pages in and then let in languish. This time I read almost 300 pages and still didn't really care about the characters. I used to feel a responsibility to finish books once I'd started them, but life's too short and there are too many other good books to read.

The Birth House by Ami McKay (2006)
  • thoughtful exploration of the history of childbirth, particularly the shift from female-centric traditional midwifery to male-dominated obstetrics
  • lovely phrase for booze-spiked tea: "tea with mitts!"
  • strong portrayal of the power of female friendship, female community


Definitely. The first time I read this, it made me want to go to the Bay of Fundy (one of my favorite spots on the planet), hang out with fantastic women and have a baby. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it a second time as well, even though the novel's ending feels a bit rushed.


  1. Wow. I'm sad that you didn't like (or "don't recommend") A Fine Balance. Rohinton Mistry (I've read most of his work) does not write with particular warmth about his characters, so I can see why you wouldn't particular like or care about them, but I don't think one is really supposed to. I think we're supposed to just take them and observe. Anyway, I'm a specialist in South Asia and this book is one of the reasons I became one. Oh, well.

  2. I don't even know what the Bay of Fundy is (well, google just taught me) and now I want to go. And read the second book. Brooklyn Library reserves! Thanks again.

  3. I didn't really love that book either, although I did read it through. I'm an avid reader of postcolonial and Indian diaspora literature of various stripes. I could see that the book was good, but it didn't grab me.

    Try Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide. That is one of my favorite recent books in the genre and explores diaspora Indians re-encountering India (and on some level finding it incomprehensible). It's a pretty neat book.

  4. @CaB: You're close to convincing me to give A Fine Balance another go, as I really did _want_ to like it. Reading it contemplatively appeals to me, plus it's still on my nightstand, bookmark still in place...

    @Rad: You should definitely go to the Bay of Fundy, either directly or via the library.

    @Cynthia: The Hungry Tide is now on my To Read list. Diasporic re-encounters fascinate me.

  5. Oh, that second book and your comments about it brought my years as a mother come flooding back. I never had so many live woman friends as in those years...

  6. @Terri: Female friends are absolutely essential to surviving motherhood with sanity intact. McKay really gets that.

  7. Hmmm. You've definitely sold me on McKay, though she'll have to sell me on the Bay of Fundy. Last time I was there, it was fricking freezing.

    As for Mistry, I'm with C&B. But I agree that it's killer to read such a long book and not love even one of the characters. Since Mistry - in my limited experience of him (read: two books) - writes tragic, tragic tales, it's somehow better for me not to be deeply involved with the characters in the end.

  8. @A-Dubs: Bay of Fundy in August. Seasonal selection is key. You and C&B are really convincing me to give Mistry another try. Not being deeply involved with characters might be a good choice for me right now. Plus I hate letting a novel defeat me!