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14th September
2009
written by Steph
It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

Disquiet is a slip of a novel – the cover simply calls it “A Story” – so I will try my best to write a review befitting its size, rather than outstripping it. It made many “Best Book” lists in 2008, so when I saw it sitting on the New Fiction shelf at the library this past weekend, I figured it was worth a shot. If nothing else, it wouldn’t require much of my time! The writing is sparse and haunting, befitting the somber story that unfolds. An abused woman returns home to her ailing mother’s chateau in France, her two young children in tow. Her visit coincides with that of her brother and his spouse, who have tragically just given birth to a stillborn daughter.  The bulk of Disquiet (if such a thin tome can be said to have bulk) is spent circling around this family, plunged in different kinds of grief and agony, trying to keep their heads above the waves of despair and keep from drowning. Much of it is spent with bated breath, as Leigh’s writing imbues us with a sense of unease and uncertainty, as though if for all the misery, this is just the calm before the storm. In a relatively spare number of pages, Leigh quickly ratchets up the tension so that the eventual release provided by a thunderstorm of emotions and events is a much-needed relief. For a quiet novella, I felt there were great depths to plumb in terms of the sorrow it conveys. I was impressed by how much Leigh accomplishes so quickly, both in terms of establishing atmosphere and tone, as well as the story she tells; it is a great example of showing rather than telling. But I couldn’t help but feel that with even just 20 or 30 more pages, I might have found this book more satisfying. In some ways I felt the story she set out to tell was incomplete – one storyline is finally resolved, a breath held from deep within can finally be exhaled, but I felt I still had questions that needed resolution on another front. Perhaps my sense of mild dissatisfaction stems from my general preference for novels over short stories, but nevertheless I felt Disquiet straddled the void between inchoate tale and complete narrative.  It is the kind of read where you finish and wonder, "Well, what can one really say about this?"  I suppose, the answer is that I can say what I already have, as well as this:  Next time, I hope Leigh gives me a bit more to hold onto. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

10 Comments

  1. 09/14/2009

    I was reading the book until I was puzzled by more questions. I didn’t feel very comfortable, or I should say, didn’t quite have a grab on what happened to the woman before she arrived in the house in France. I had that unease feeling that something happened in Australia is crucial to understanding the story. Maybe Leigh wants to convey how meaningful not knowing can be? I need to pick the book up again.

  2. 09/14/2009

    I know how it can be when a book gives you just barely enough to be satisfied and you feel like something was left out. I’ve had that happen with a few books, and my reaction was much like yours, and I felt that I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret the book. This sounds like an interesting book, but knowing that it fails to completely deliver in the end might put me off a bit. Very thoughtful review.

  3. 09/14/2009

    Hmmm…I haven’t heard about this one, and my general tendency is to avoid novellas (books of 500 pages plus, on the other hand…) I’ve only read a few novellas that really knocked my socks off, and I think it’s because they told very simple stories with a tight focus. (On Chesil Beach comes to mind, although I know you’re no friend of McEwan.)

  4. 09/15/2009

    @ Matt: I think this might be a good book to discuss with people – then we could talk about the unanswered questions we have! Maybe someone else has the insights we’re lacking!
     
    @ zibilee: I seem to have this lack of understanding happening more and more, though generally with short stories (I didn’t really get a large portion of the Alice Munro’s I read a few weeks back). Maybe you would have a different reaction than me, and I definitely found the writing worthwhile… and on the plus side, it definitely doesn’t take very long to read!
     
    @ Teresa: Well, you might be in luck here because the front cover did compare this to Ian McEwan (and J.M Coetzee)! One novella that comes to mind that I really adore is Steinbeck’s of Mice & Men. I think that is a great example of doing a lot with a limited amount of pages!

  5. 09/15/2009

    I am unfamiliar with this book, but after reading your review I am anxious to read it myself!

    I found your blog by way of Matt’s recommendation and I look forward to following you in the future!

  6. 09/15/2009

    @ Molly: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment! It seems like BBAW is proving a great way to introduce us all to wonderful new blogs. If you do check out Disquiet, I’ll be curious to read your thoughts on it. The writing is undeniably very good, but I wonder how others will respond to the story and its ambiguities.

  7. 09/17/2009

    Well it has a very cool cover, at least! Too bad the book’s not the greatest.

  8. 09/17/2009

    The book wasn’t bad, it just needed a tad more fleshing out in my opinion! But yes, the cover is really cool!

  9. Meg
    09/21/2009

    I’m generally wary of novellas, like other commenters have noted, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some that I’ve read! So I can’t be a total hater. 🙂 If there’s a tie to Ian McEwan — whose On Chesil Beach I absolutely loved! — I’d be willing to give it a chance! 🙂

  10. 09/21/2009

    @ Meg: I have written before about my disillusionment with McEwan, so I admit the draw here for me was more the comparison to J.M. Coetzee. I didn’t read On Chesil Beach (though I know the premise), so I can’t say how this might compare to that, but I do think it’s worth taking the time to explore. It may not have worked as a complete story for me, but I was suitably impressed by the writing.

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