2010 Recommended books

The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst

The Nobodies Album is described as a murder mystery, but it is so much more than that. It is an insightful look into the relationship between a mother and her grown-up child, but it is also a clever piece of meta-fiction – questioning whether a story ever really ends and what rights an author has to a book once it has been published.

The Nobodies Album begins with Octavia Frost, a famous novelist, discovering that her son has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend. She dashes across the country to be with him, despite the fact that they haven’t seen each other for years. Scared and emotional she waits to see if she will be accepted back into his life and begins the painful process of discovering whether or not he is guilty of the crime. I thought that the book perfectly captured the emotions of parenthood – covering the nature versus nurture debate as well as the guilt experienced when a child behaves inappropriately. The meta-fictional style made these emotions seem all the more honest and realistic.

Now that the moment is here, it’s not what I expected at all. That’s the fundamental flaw in the illusion that writers like to maintain, the idea that we can craft anything approaching truth. No matter how richly we imagine, no matter how vividly we set the scene, we never come close to the unambiguous realness of the moment itself.

Interwoven with the narrative are snippets from Octavia Frost’s novels. Life experiences have altered the way she views the world and so she has decided to create a new book in which she rewrites the ending to all her previous novels. The snippets didn’t come across as realistic endings as each contained the sort of information that normally begins a novel, but I’m willing to forgive this because each of the stories was so interesting in its own right. I could easily have read full-length versions of most of them – especially the one in which people forget everything that is too traumatic.

It is difficult to explain just how clever this novel is. There is so much going on, but Carolyn Parkhurst’s skill as a writer ensures that the reader is never lost. It could easily have felt gimmicky, but the emotional rawness of the text lent an authenticity to it.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in parental responsibilty or how the writing process changes with experience, but also to anyone looking for a gripping narrative with an original, thought provoking style.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

….the writing is stellar. It is smart, insightful, and real. You’ve Gotta Read This!

….an incredibly creative novel that I definitely recommend. S. Krishna’s Books

……accessible and thoughtful. The Literate Housewife

I think I may have discovered a new favourite novelist!

Have you read any of Carolyn Parkhurst’s earlier books?

39 replies on “The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst”

Sakura, I haven’t read anything like this before – I love books that push boundaries without looking as though they are trying too hard. I hope you decide to give it a try.

I quite enjoyed this one when I read it – you’re right in that it’s very clever without ever becoming confusing or gimmicky. I haven’t read anything else by Parkhurst yet but it certainly made me curious!

FleurFisher, It is quite good to know that she is capable of writing a range of books that I may or may not like. At least I’ve read this one first and so am more willing to try subsequent books if I don’t happen to enjoy the next one I pick up. I think you’ll enjoy this one – I hope you decide to give it a try.

I read this one last year (?) and reviewed it for BookPage. I liked it a lot, especially because of the metafictional elements that you mentioned. I just really loved the idea of an author rewriting the endings to all of her books (and how these reflect how she has changed over time).

Steph, I haven’t read much metafiction, but I’ll be seeking more now that I know I love it so much. I’m pleased that you enjoyed it too. So much to think about!

Sounds very interesting. I read Lost and Found by this author, which was a really nice book, but I considered it to be in the humor or chick-lit genre. This book sounds more serious than that. It’s going on my wishlist, given that I also liked this earlier book a lot.

Judith, Certain aspects of this book could be considered chick-lit (so I can see how she’d be able to successfully write in that genre), but this book has a lot more depth than a typical chick-lit read. The metafiction and the stories-within-stories push this book toward the literary fiction end of the scale, but the beauty of this book is that it includes so many different genres. It really is unique 🙂

This is the one you told me to avoid as I didn’t like Rupture, but I must admit I think this sounds really good! I have read Lorelei’s Secret (The Dogs of Bable in the US) years ago and loved it. I think I may give this a go anyway.

I thought…and I can’t tell you why I thought this…that this book was on the lighter side. Reading your review I realized I’ve never read anything about this book. I think I must have confused it with another book (& skipped over other review, silly me!).

Anyway – I’m so glad I read your review because this book sounds like one I’d really enjoy. So many things fall away & don’t matter when there’s a major crisis like this and I expect it’s fascinating to read about Octavia’s relationship with her son and what happens to it now. But what’s even more intriguing to me is the impact on Octavia is so great that she wants to re-writes the endings to many of her novels. Brilliant! I wonder if many authors think about the books they’ve written years later and wish to change them.
Thanks Jackie!

Amy, I can see why you’d think it was a lighter book and I have to admit that some of it could easily be pulled straight from a fluffy piece of chick-lit, but there is real depth behind the scenes and the re-writes to the endings are thought provoking. I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to pick it up.

anothercookiecrumbles, Would you find it gimmicky? Tricky question! I don’t know. I didn’t find this book, Time Traveler’s Wife or the Other Hand gimmicky, although I can understand why someone would find that to be the case with any of these three books. I guess that means you might – only one way to find out 😉

I read the Dogs of Babel, which was either her first or second book, and it was an intriguing book with what sound like similar threads/themes. From your description, this one sounds great, and I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

[…] The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst defies genre classification. On the surface it is a murder mystery, but the book also contains extracts from novels written by the narrator. These novels are then re-written over the course of the book, giving an insight into how our perspective of events changes as we age. The book also directly addresses the reader at many points: […]

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