The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, May 19, 2007


by Tricia Dower

Divisadero is the name of a street in San Francisco. It’s also the name of Michael Ondaatje’s latest novel which I mentioned in last week’s blog. A Quill & Quire review by James Grainger provides such a balanced view, I won’t try to compete. Consider this not a Review but an Impression.

Reading Divisadero is like being in a time machine that deposits you in different places then whisks you away before you can care too deeply about anyone you meet there. You’re an eavesdropper, a voyeur. Even when you think you’re having a conversation with one character the thoughts of another intrude. Ondaatje is not a slave to point of view conventions.

  • First stop: the 1970s and a farm in northern California, with Anna and her father and two others — Claire and Coop — he has raised as his own. It’s pastoral and pleasant until Something Happens.
  • Next stop: Tahoe in the early ‘90s. Coop is living a reckless life. I’m on edge in this place but drawn in by the danger and what I can learn about serious cheating.
  • We zip over to France, still in the 90s, where Anna is researching the life of dead author Lucien Segura and living in his country house. She tries not to think about What Happened so we get only bits and pieces of her life between then and now. She drifts into an affair with a gypsy who was a boy when Segura bought the house.
  • Back to Tahoe where Claire and Coop run into each other in a coffee shop and catch me up on a little of what transpired during the missing years. Just a little.
  • Back to Anna who tells us, finally, where she went after Something Happened at the farm.
  • Back to Claire and Coop: Something Else Happens and we leave them sitting in a car outside the farmhouse of their youth. I just know this is my last view of them and I’m more than a little ticked at Ondaatje for abandoning these characters before I’m done with them.
  • All is forgiven as the second half of the book takes us to the early 1900s and the story of Segura. I am pulled in so deeply, I callously forget about Claire and Coop and even Anna whose presence lurks in the background. Maybe I never did care about her. I could have cared about Coop, I think, but, what do they say? ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.’ Lucien Segura is complex and compelling and a window, I sense, into Ondaatje’s writerly soul.

The ending is transcendent and leaves me feeling complete. I may not have gotten all of the links between the separate stories in this book but I don’t care. Anil’s Ghost was more powerful, I believe, in what it had to say. But Divisadero is an experience, a journey into the imagination of an author who is not afraid to break any sacred writing rule. It was the perfect book for me to read at this particular time. I’ll tell you why next week.


Blogger Anne C. said...

A teaser, eh?

Waiting for next week.

Sat May 19, 09:26:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

oh, no. i can't read this! not until i read the book. it's a thing...i don't read about books or films i'm certain to enjoy; i love the surprise factor best. but it's good to see that you've enjoyed this. and i look forward to hearing more next week (although i think i have an idea...).

Sat May 19, 01:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Larry said...

These are captivating impressions, Tricia ; now I'M going to read it.

Sat May 19, 01:47:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey you guys, thanks for stopping by. Not too many people around on a Saturday. Sorry if I spoiled the book for you, Tamara. I tried not to give too much away. Don't read the Quill & Quire review. It's definitely a plot spoiler.

Sat May 19, 03:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

No, no. Not at all. You didn't spoil the book for me. I stopped myself from reading too much. And I did notice that you were being careful with no plot spoiling. It surprises me how few reviewers care about such things. There are certain reviewers, thoush, whose style is such that I read the first and last paragraph, and it's fine. Any more than that, and I feel cheated of an experience. But I'm just fussy like that; it's one reason why I don't think I'd be a good reviewer.

Sat May 19, 04:39:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I haven't read Ondaatje in a long time, maybe I need to pick this one up.

Mon May 21, 08:27:00 pm GMT-4  

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