A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year
A Quill & Quire Top Five Canadian Fiction Book of the Year
A Maclean’s Top Ten Book of the Year
Elizabeth Hay’s runaway national bestseller is a funny, sad-eyed, deliciously entertaining novel about a woman caught in a tug of war between real life and the films of the past. Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child, Harriet Browning forms a Friday-night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy sidekick named after Dinah Shore. Into this idiosyncratic world, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood: Harriet’s Aunt Leah, the jaded widow of a screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s, and her sardonic, often overbearing stepson, Jack. They bring harsh reality and illuminate the pull of family and friendship, the sting of infidelity and revenge, the shock of illness and sudden loss. Poignant, brilliant, and delightfully droll, Garbo Laughs reveals how the dramas of everyday life are sometimes the most astonishing of all.
Garbo hardly ever laughed, and when she did, it was dubbed; reality is similarly transformed in this quirky, dreamy novel infused with movie mania. A plague of cinematic absorption settles over an Ottawa neighborhood in Hay's latest offering (her debut, A Student of Weather, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize). Harriet Browning's ascetic mother refused her the frivolity of the cinema as a child, and as an adult she views films obsessively. In middle age, she is the center of a small group of cinephiles: her son, Kenny, obsessed with Sinatra, watches classic movies to forget his troubles at school; her daughter, Jane, on the brink of adolescence, longs for the glamorous life; her neighbor and friend Dinah may be attracted mainly by the familial activity of watching together. Lew, Harriet's realist husband, is left out of this loop; his escapes come in the form of business trips to South America. The arrival of Harriet's aunt Leah, the trouble-making widow of a Hollywood screenwriter, and her stepson Jack, a lazy, fast-talking writer, leads to shifts in affections and allegiances. It is illness, however, that brings an end to the movie-watching, in true Hollywood weepy fashion. References to Pauline Kael (beloved by Harriet), top 100 movie lists and a lineup of movie greats are as integral to the story as the interactions of its film-besotted protagonists. This is a gracefully written novel, mapping out the patterns of tension and release in a family whose members are best able to express their love and disappointment through the films of the past.
Great storytelling and character development