HELLGOING by Lynn Coady

Book Quote:

“It started before the dream. A woman walks into a bar.

Starts like a joke, you see.

A woman walks into a bar. It’s Toronto, she’s there on business. Bidness, she likes to call it, she says to her friends. Makes it sound raunchy, which it is not. It’s meetings, mostly with other women of her own age or else men about twenty years older. Sumptuous lunches in blandly posh restaurants. There is only one thing duller than upscale Toronto dining, and that’s upscale Toronto dining with women of Jane’s own age, class and education. They and Jane wear black, don’t go in for a lot of jewellery, are elegant, serious. The men are more interesting. The men were once Young Turks of publishing. They remember the seventies, when magazines were run by young men exactly like themselves — — smokers, drinkers — and these men have never found one another remotely dull — not in the least. “

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe (DEC 24, 2013)

Lynn Coady’s new story collection, Hellgoing, brings together nine self-contained stories that take a realistic and thought provoking look at a wide range of human relationships in today’s world. Reading them we are pushed or pulled into something like a voyeur role, observing in close-up fragments of ongoing or evolving relationships between an array of distinct characters, be they in couples, with family or friends, or crossing paths in professional or casual encounters. Some of the stories can take you on a bit of a rough ride; they rarely are smooth, easy or the content just pleasant. While they might leave us with a sense of unease they also stimulate us to consider more deeply the underlying questions and issues that the author raises. Are they a reflection of contemporary reality or, at minimum, of certain aspects of it? Very likely. Among the quotes on the book’s back cover, one (by the National Post) reads: “…There is a searing honesty here about humankind’s inability or unwillingness, to make an effort at connection, but the author’s own humanity rescues her vision from descending into despair or nihilism.” I couldn’t have stated my reaction any better. If you look for romantic love or happiness, you will not easily find it in any of these stories.

One story from the collection has remained etched in my mind more than any of the others, titled, “Mr. Hope.” It is written from the perspective of a young female teacher, who, upon returning to her first school, is reliving intense childhood memories, among them her first encounters with her teacher, Mr. Hope. Lynn Coady exquisitely captures the feelings of a young girl, her anxieties but also her independent spirit. Interweaving the vividly reimagined child’s perception with that of the hindsight of the adult looking back, the author tells a story that not only conveys narrative tension and inner drama, she convincingly brings out the girl’s emotional confusion and conflicts in a way that will, in some way or another, sound familiar to most readers.

Among the other stories, some characters stand out for me more than others, such as a nun in a hospital who applies her counselling to get an anorexic girl with a religious obsession to take “some food.” The title story tackles another important and well-known subject: deep and lasting family strains going back decades that the female protagonist cannot shake off. However, a “reunion” demands a different response so many years later. While all stories are written from the distance of a third person narrator, they do often cut through the surface of the characters’ “normalcy” and expose what lies underneath. Coady’s stories focus more on the women’s mental state of mind than that of their male counterparts. There is, for example, the young bride who has discovered that “twenty-something” sex is no longer adequate (or never was) and her new partner is a willing if somewhat reluctant participant in the new experiments. Coady pinpoints many of the ambitions and anxieties that younger women experience, whether in private or professional life. She is an astute observer of people and scenarios and her depiction of her central characters is not without a sense of humour or irony.

Canadian Lynn Coady, is with Hellgoing the recent winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2013 and a finalist for the Writers Trust Fiction Prize.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: House of Anansi Pr (July 31, 2013)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another Giller Prize winner:


December 24, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Canada, Giller Prize, Short Stories, y Award Winning Author

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