The World

The World

Book - 2012
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Weaving together five heartbreaking stories, Bill Gaston transforms the cruelty of life into something not only beautiful but heartwarming. A recently divorced, early retiree accidentally burns down his house on the day he pays off the mortgage, only to discover that for the first time in his life he’s forgotten to pay a bill: his insurance premium. An old friend of his, a middle-aged musician, prepares for her suicide to end the pain of esophageal cancer. Her father, who left his family to study Buddhism in Nepal, ends his days in a Toronto facility for Alzheimer’s patients. The three are tied together not only by their bonds of affection, but by a book called The World, written by the old man in his youth. The book, possibly biographical, tells the story of a historian who unearths a cache of letters, written in Chinese, in an abandoned leper colony off the coast of Victoria. He and the young Chinese translator fall in love, only to betray each other in the cruellest way possible, each violating what the other reveres most.
Publisher: Toronto, Ont. : Hamish Hamilton, 2012.
Description: 353 p. ; 22 cm
ISBN: 9780670065837
Branch Call Number: Gast


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Mar 23, 2015

A nice book. Slow at times.

Nov 16, 2014

Be prepared for a bit of jumping around in this novel. It is written in three parts concentrating on three different people. First we meet Stuart who in a moment of rosy happiness lights a fire that empties his life of all his possessions. Then Mel takes over, a friend of Stuart's from twenty years ago who is now dying of cancer. Lastly, we meet her father, Hal, who lived as a Buddhist in Tibet for years and is now in a hospital in Montreal with Alzheimer's disease. I found the first two sections very engaging with an easy flow, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad. Hal's portion is short and overlaid by a book he wrote years previously on the history of the leper colony on Darcy Island just off Victoria I'm not sure why that was in there, and actually toward the end I began to skip over those parts. I did enjoy meeting the three characters and did not find the separation of the narratives a problem at all. Kept me interested.

KennethRossHalvorson Aug 22, 2014

I would not recommend this novel. The first 150 pages is a fun read as the hero drives cross- Canada from Victoria in his failing Datsun. Then the book becomes a hodge-podge
of cancer treatment, dementia issues and Darcy Island leprosy.

Dec 16, 2013

I truly enjoyed this book. Gaston is a lovely writer and often drops a piece of insight that makes one think. The novel is a story within a story within a story, each of them linked by sorrow and betrayal. Mind you, it's not all sad to read and some parts of this book are humorous enough to make one laugh out loud. I'm not too certain that I understood part of the end of the novel, but I wouldn't have missed reading it for the world. Life is messy and Gaston captures that. Nothing necessarily goes as planned.

ksoles Nov 30, 2012

"The World" literally begins with a spark: on the day he pays off his mortgage, Stuart Price, a boring, methodical, recent retiree, accidentally burns down his house. If that doesn't scream irony loudly enough, his insurance has also just expired.

After its dramatic opening, the book settles into a series of conventions. It becomes a midlife crisis novel as newly divorced, attachment free Stuart wonders what to do with the rest of his life; a road novel as he decides to drive from the West Coast to Toronto to visit Melanie, an old girlfriend suffering from cancer; and a meta-novel as he spends many pages reading out loud from a book (titled "The World"), which Melanie's father, Hal, an Alzheimer's patient, wrote years before.

Gaston has a gift for storytelling and his tripartite structure results in some interesting parallel interactions. He effectively conveys the pleasure of perceiving closely while living in the moment: Stuart wills himself to slow down on his journey, Melanie focuses on the significant moments still left to her and Hal has no choice but to perpetually inhabit the present.

However, the book-within-a-book structure never fully engages with the lives of the three main characters, leaving the book tired after the first section. Once Stuart has made it to Toronto, Gaston flounders within the 30-year-old text and retreats into the uncompelling past. The novel that admirably attempts to move in many directions ultimately loses direction altogether.

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