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Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller Prize winning novel, The Sentimentalists, is a journey that sometimes takes place between the lines. Skibsrud’s unnamed narrator takes the reader across time as she tries to reconnect with her troubled past and with her father, which has always been shrouded in secret.
From the beginning, the reader knows little about the narrator. Skibsrud weaves details from the past as she navigates the narrator through a trip back to Casablanca (save yourself some Mapquesting- this is a fictional town CP), Ontario, her hometown. Sparked by recent heartbreak, the narrator travels to Casablanca to spend time with her father in the twilight of his life.
In what seems like an attempt to distract herself from her own problems, she devotes herself to finding out some truths about her father’s life before he slips away….forever. The reader never knows much about the narrator. This will be a test for those who like to know about the person who is telling the story. Never named, the narrator releases little information about (gender spoiler alert CP) herself, but a clear and exhaustive picture is painted of her father, Napolean.
[Casablanca is the favourite film of the Haskell family featured in The Sentimentalists CP]
[One of the best Woody Allen films- uses an imaginary-advice-giving-fedora-wearing character straight out of Casablanca as a narrative device CP]
Lyrically written, this novel can be a frustrating read at some points. It is full of beautiful passages and poetic imagery. However, at times, the reader may find themselves somewhat lost in the fog of the past and present blending together.
A haunting and promising debut, The Sentimentalists leaves the reader with something to think about. Although difficult at times, it is definitely worth sticking with until the end.
Johanna Skibsrud’s second release is a series of short stories called This Will be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories. Sarah Purdy is an educator, avid reader and reviewer of Canadian authored books for The Silo. Read more reviews by searching “Sarah Purdy” from our website.