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A Good House    by Bonnie Burnard order for
Good House
by Bonnie Burnard
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2001 (1999)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Praise for Bonnie Burnard's A Good House abounds, and much is warranted. It is essentially the history of Bill Chambers and his extended family. Reading it, we become familiar with post-war rural Ontario and move through numerous portentous events that mould the family and their inter-relationships. We experience the social and political upheavals that occurred in Canada over the course of the five decades of this novel. Like most families, that of Bill Chambers' has its share of imagined slights and wrongs, each viewed differently by the individuals concerned. In particular, Bill's second wife, Margaret, has a tough time being unconditionally accepted into the clan - she walks a tightrope but deals with her stepchildren with immense aplomb.

Although A Good House has much to admire, I found it lacking in one aspect. The characters seemed strangely one-dimensional and stilted at times and were difficult to understand in depth. Bill is probably the most wishy-washy of all of them; is this because of his war-time experiences and injury, or is he just a rather spineless individual? Daphne, the tomboy daughter, engages our attention readily at first, but our understanding of her psyche does not seem to move forward through the span of the decades. The other siblings, Paul and Patrick, and family friend, Murray, suffer the same fate - their characters do not grow and mature as we might expect. Perhaps this is because of the nature of the chapters, jumping forward seven or more years at times, leaving us to fill in the blanks.

Bonnie Burnard has written an engrossing first novel, and despite its flaws I would recommend that you read it. It is not the type of book that you cannot put down - it's neither dramatic nor thrilling - but it does tug at the heart strings and leave a warm feeling of familiarity.
Note: This book won the Giller Prize

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