I finished reading Heather Birrell's Mad Hope earlier this week and loved it. As I was reading it, I'd come across passages and think, oh, that'd be a good one to excerpt and then I'd continue on without making note of these. The truth is, there are too many good parts to excerpt, that I'm doing what I rarely do on this blog and write about the book itself.
Mad Hope was a slow burn for me. I don't know if it's because life got in the way of finishing the opening story in a timely matter and therefore coloured those first stories, or it's because the later stories sung to me in a way that those first few didn't, but I am so glad that I kept reading.
In October, I saw Heather Birrell read at the Vancouver International Writers Fest. I was there to see my friend John Vigna, but was pleasantly surprised to hear her read. When I reached the section that she read from, I was excited. Despite the many praises her book has rightly acquired, it was hearing her read that made me want to buy the book. She's a fine, wry reader. A true pleasure. At the reading, I didn't realize how complex that section was in the book and I loved it even more reading it. It did make wish she had a novel I could read next, though.
When I read "No One Else Really Wants to Listen" I had to put the book down beside me every page or so. I didn't want to walk away from it, I needed to read it in one sitting, but I also knew I needed to savour it. That I was only going to have the experience of reading it first the one time and I wanted to enjoy it, take it in as much as possible. I don't do that often with fiction. This story was a discovery, a beautifully uncomfortable mirror held to my life. I know I'm going to carry some of those characters with me for a long, long time.
There is so much in Mad Hope that is great, how deftly Birrell navigates relationships--the comfortable and uncomfortable; the fleeting and the life-long; the ugly and the beautiful. I especially loved how she writes about children and parenthood. This may sound strange, but I feel like I trust her completely.
If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. If you want to read more about Birrell, I recommend this interview with Kerry Clare over at Pickle Me This.