This year, I’m counting down the 12 books I most enjoyed during 2015. As always, they’re books I read this year but they were not necessarily published this year. But books never go out of fashion so let’s not worry about that.
All My Puny Sorrows isn’t what you’d call an easy read but it is the most human novel I read this year and the most imbued with love. It’s the love that makes this novel’s central themes – bereavement, suicide, grief – just about bearable. And, surprisingly, the humour, which catches you out, causing you to laugh out loud during even the darkest events.
Yoli and Elf are sisters. Brought up in a Canadian Mennonite community, they are bereaved by the suicide of their father, an event shared in real life by the author, Miriam Toews. Yoli is a writer of generic romance novels but has higher aspirations (she carries around the manuscript of her heavyweight literary novel in a plastic bag). Her life appears haphazard but she maintains relationships with her children’s fathers, her lover, her best friend, her mother and sister and her sister’s husband; she holds things together. Elf, on the other hand, is a world renowned concert pianist, married to a charming and supportive husband. But she is scared that the glass piano she imagines inside her will break and she wants – and has attempted several times – to die.
What Toews achieves in balancing the humour and grief in the novel – the witty conversations between the sisters as Elf lies in a hospital bed after her latest suicide attempt; the mischief and sense of the absurd they still share; the very matter-of-fact way the family cope with their daily grief – is remarkable. You may be changed by this book.