His Whole Life

His Whole LifeHis Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay
Published by McClelland & Stewart on August 11th 2015
Pages: 361
ISBN: 0771038593
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Received from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“What’s the Worse thing you have ever done?”

This novel begins when ten year old Jim and his Canadian mother, Nan, and American father, George, are on a road trip from New York City to visit his Mother’s family at a lake in eastern Ontario during the late summer in the 1990’s. Jim asks his parents the above question, “What is the worst thing you have ever done?” Each in turn answer him, but he does not want to share his own answer. He is silent and what he has done worries him. Throughout the book that theme comes up with various characters tell the worst thing they have ever done.

After they return from their late summer trip, the family gets bad news and Jim and his Mother, Nan return to Ontario where her best friend Lulu makes an appearance and sticks around. Nan is unhappy in her Marriage and is estranged from her oldest son, and reconnecting with her friend and her old home seems to be just what she needs. Thus begins the novel. Jim is 17 when the book ends. He is a sweet and knowing child, sensitive and often appeared wise beyond his years.

His Whole life is about the characters. This not a “nail biter” of a book, you will not be “on the edge of your seat”, it is not a “bodice ripper” or a “page turner”. It is a tender character driven book with many themes. At times a coming of age novel and a love story. A love story, in the sense, as it is a story about love between a Mother and child, between a husband and wife, a brother and sister, a boy and many dogs, and love between friends. This book is also about loss.

The struggles in Jim’s life, county vs. city, Mother vs. father, also reflect the struggle within Quebec at the time of the 1995 referendum of independence.

As I was reading this book, I could visualize everything. The writing was very descriptive and beautiful. There are so many passages in the book that I loved. Here is one of the first that I thought was touching “Jim was never sure when to stop patting him. Even when he tired of it, he didn’t want to hurt the dog’s feelings and so he kept on. When finally he stopped, Pog lay down, not having wanted to hurt the boy’s feelings either.” This book felt like a small independent movie to me. One made out of love.

A very enjoyable read. Not a fast read. A read to be read over some time. Slow and lazy like a warm Canadian Summer. That is not to mean it is a boring book. It is not. But this is not a book to be rushed. It is a book to be savored. The writer is so gifted. The phrases and sentences are quite beautiful. At times I wondered if this Author also wrote poetry. As I stated above, this is a character driven book. Jim and Lulu were my favorite characters in the book.

“They went down to the water’s edge and stood watching and listening. The leaves fell like rain. It was the weight of the hoarfrost, melting in the sun, that made them break away. His whole life Jim would remember the sound and so would Nan”


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