August 28, 2014

Review: Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach By Eden Robinson
Available now from Open Road Media
Review copy

In the comments of my review of GREAT SHORT STORIES BY CONTEMPORARY NATIVE AMERICAN WRITERS, Aarti (of BookLust) asked me if I had read MONKEY BEACH by Eden Robinson.  I actually hadn't even heard of it (it comes from Canada), but just a few days later the American edition popped up on NetGalley.  Clearly, I needed to read this book.

MONKEY BEACH is one of those books were I am honestly unsure about how I feel about it.  I suspect Robinson prefers it that way.  MONKEY BEACH slips and slides between the past and the presents, tying the disparate parts of heroine Lisamarie's life together in unexpected ways.  The nominal driving force of the novel is the disappearance of Lisamarie's older brother, Jimmy.  He was on a fishing boat that disappeared; however, he is a great swimmer and there are tons of islands, so there's a small chance he died.  At first it seems odd that Lisamarie would disgress so much, pondering her uncle Mick (for example) instead of focusing on Jimmy.  But it all works together, in a rough sort of way.

This is a hard novel to describe, because nothing much happens in MONKEY BEACH, yet it is a very tumultuous novel.  Life is enough to provide humor and tragedy without big events.  MONKEY BEACH is also a very dark novel.  Education in boarding schools looms over the heads of the previous generation.  Other injustices against the Haisla and other First Nations people continue.  The heroine is date raped, in a thankfully non-explicit scene.  Secrets bubble out of every corner.  Death, drugs, alcohol, sex - they're never far.  At the same time, Lisamarie has an incredible, loving family, a real shot at the future, and a few good friends.

I really loved Lisamarie.  She's angry, prickly, and too foolhardy for her own good.  She also sees things - a little man who fortells deaths, for instance.  Lisamarie never has much hope of Jimmy's survival.  It's a power she seeks to learn more about, but she's still not the type to bear it with grace.

I may not entirely know how I feel about the novel, but MONKEY BEACH was an absorbing reading experience.  I felt a little like I was in Kitamaat, especially when Lisamarie described fish grease in detail.

Eden Robinson is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, which makes her a wonderful writer for you to give a chance during A More Diverse Universe, hosted by Aarti.  This will be my third year participating, and I highly recommend it.  I always find new authors that fit my interests among the many reviews it generates.


  1. I was offered a review copy of this one shortly after I posted here! And felt pretty glad to say that my review would be posting shortly :-) My review will be going up on Thursday. I completely understand your mixed feelings about this one. There was a lot that was hinted at, and I'm not sure if I always made the leaps I was supposed to.

    1. "There was a lot that was hinted at, and I'm not sure if I always made the leaps I was supposed to."

      That's a great way of putting it. I suspect some of the hinting was due to Lisamarie's youth, but it definitely made for a lot of ambiguity in the narrative.


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