Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

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Legend of a Suicide is a book which is hard to classify. It has been described as a collection of short stories and is now being marketed as a novel. I think the truth is that this book is similar to Olive Kitteridge, in that it is a very successful book of interconnected short stories.

The book follows Roy, a young boy whose father commits suicide. The emotion in this book is pitched perfectly. The suicide of the author’s own father enables him to give us an insight into the real, conflicting emotions experienced by a child put into this terrible situation. This book shows us how immersing a child into the dark, adult world is such a bewildering experience – one they don’t have the knowledge to handle.

There was nothing Roy could think of to say, so he didn’t say anything. But he wondered why they were here at all, when everything important to his father was somewhere else. It didn’t make sense to Roy that his father had come out here. It was beginning to seem that maybe he just hadn’t been able to think of any other way of living that might be better. So this was just a big fallback plan, and Roy too, was part of a large despair that lived everywhere his father went.

The first few stories were slightly disjointed, in that I couldn’t follow the narrative, but once I reached the novella of their trip into the Alaskan wilderness I was completely hooked. I found the book impossible to put down and I read the rest in a single sitting.

The writing was vivid, emotionally charged and thought-provoking. I think that this book might help relatives of suicide victims to be able to cope with their loss and it should also be read by anyone who feels that suicide is a good option, as it is the best demonstration of the devastation a suicide brings to a family I have ever seen. The number of issues raised and the power of this story make it perfect for reading groups too.

Highly recommended to anyone who loves books which are packed with emotion.

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26 Comments

  1. Beth F says:

    I’ll tuck this title in the back of my brain. A tough subject that seems to have been handled well. I can’t imagine the emotional turmoil that a suicide’s loved ones must live with.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, To be able to handle a subject like this with sensitivity is an amazing achievement, but to combine it with a fantastic plot shows the quality of this book. I hope you manage to read a copy.

  2. Verity says:

    I must look out for this title, although I would have to be in the right place of mind in order to read it. One of my friends committed suicide 3 years ago, and her family and other friends are still trying to come to terms with it. I’ve not really seen the subject treated in a novel before.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I do not know anyone that has committed suicide. I would love to know your thoughts on this book. I think that it would help, but realise that it won’t be an easy read at all for you.

      1. Verity says:

        Sadly it’s not in the library so I will have to add it to the rapidly growing wish-list that is forming since I gave up buying books – very frustrating!!

        1. Jackie says:

          Verity, It is only released in the UK at the end of the week, so you’ll have to wait a while before it turns up in the library. Sorry to add to your wishlist!

          1. Verity says:

            It’s in the library now and I finally got a copy (it was even on the shelf so didn’t have to pay 85p to reserve it).

            I’m loving it, halfway through the novella section and desperate to find out how it will end. Worth waiting for!

  3. Simon S says:

    I saw that Kim really enjoyed this the other day and now you have so thats a good sign as far as I am concerned. This is one I will get when it comes out in paperback I think. Unless I go through with a possible new books ban??!!

    You have also reminded me I have Olive Kitteridge and still have not read it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, It is released in paperback at the end of the week – so only a few days to wait!

    2. kimbofo says:

      Simon, you can have my copy… I’ll try to remember to bring it next week.

  4. Aarti says:

    Wow, this one sounds pretty intense. I am not sure if I will be able to read it, based on the emotional drama of it, but I’ll be sure to keep it in mind for suggestions.

    1. Jackie says:

      Aarti, It is very emotional, but it didn’t move me to tears – it was more shock than sadness that I felt.

  5. Steph says:

    I haven’t read Olive Kitteridge yet, and you know that I generally do not have good luck with short stories, but I think I would fare better with collections in which the stories are somehow interconnected. Maybe then I would get that sense of closure I otherwise never seem to get? The subject here sounds really interesting, and I love the cover… so I’ll be keeping this one in mind!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I don’t like short stories either, but I enjoy interconnected ones. Legend of a Suicide was even better than Olive Kitteridge – perhaps this is because the stories were linked better, having the same narrator for all but one of and they were in order, so easier to follow. I think that you will enjoy this book despite the short story nature of it.

  6. She says:

    Ooo, it seems like I would need a box of tissues next to me for this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I didn’t feel close to crying when reading this book – it just left me feeling shocked and a bit numb. I’d be interested to hear how other people feel though – let me know if you read it and need some tissues!

  7. 3m.michelle says:

    I like the idea of connected stories as in Olive Kitteridge. This one sounds promising — thanks for the review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Michelle, this is a really good book, so I hope that you get the chance to read it.

  8. What a gripping title and I’m quite fond of emotional reads myself. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Great review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks Amy! I am a big fan of emotional reads. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  9. Stacy says:

    Thanks so much for the review. Sounds like a good gift for the people you suggest. I’ll make a note of it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stacy, I hope it is, but having not experienced anything like that I wouldn’t like to promise thay they will find it useful. I’d love someone with experience to let me know their thoughts.

  10. Jenners says:

    I think suicide is such a compelling topic for an author and this sound really well done. I’ll have to check it out.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I hope that you enjoy reading it!

  11. stujallen says:

    it is such a vivid book ,i can t remember a book having such a instant impact for a long while

  12. Samantha says:

    This sounds like something I would “enjoy” – thanks for pointing it out Jackie. I think the Olive Kitteridge style of interconnecting short stories is a good one for me as I rarely read any short stories.

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