Book Review: Monkey Beach

Every year, the university I work at chooses a "book of the year". We all (assumably) read it and the the author visits.

After the profound experience that was my read of Indian Horse, I decided to read a couple vintage books of the year. First I read Chorus of Mushrooms (meh). Next up, Monkey Beach.

Book of the Year 2002

Monkey Beach
By Eden Robinson
2001
377 pages

I decided to read Monkey Beach because I was still on and aboriginal literature kick, plus the main character has the same first/middle name combo as me. Couldn't pass that up! When the story opens, Lisamarie's 17 year old brother Jimmy has been lost at sea. From there, the book moves back and forth through time as Lisa tells the story of their childhood and wayward teenage years, growing up in a contemporary Haisla community on the west coast of B.C. She weaves the lives of her family and friends throughout, and includes compelling lessons about native culture and traditional ways of life. As the book progresses, it becomes quite clear Lisa has spiritual gifts and those are integral to her survival as she goes searching for her brother. The narrative is interesting and funny and tragic all at the same time.

This novel was fantastic! It was almost lyrical, full of rich description about nature and customs and folktales. Sometimes books that bounce in time annoy me but Robinson does a superb job of not making the time shifts jarring or confusing. I didn't want the story to end, I was all wrapped up in the setting and lives of the characters.

And then it ended. Just ended. And it's not that it ended badly or that I was unsatisfied, it's just that it ended. I just wanted another page, heck another paragraph. I guess that's the mark of a good book and a thought provoking ended?

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more from contemporary aboriginal literature. I taught me about life in a community in a different part of Canada. It was a great follow up to Indian Horse and I understand why they chose it as a book of the year.

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