The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst

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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.

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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?


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38 Comments

  1. Karen says:

    I have not heard anything about this one Jackie but you are making it sound like an interesting read – I might have to see if my library has a copy…

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, I hope that you find a copy as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. :-)

  2. sakura says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard of this one either so you’ve sparked my interest! It’s an interesting concept plus it sounds like a very different book.

    1. Jackie says:

      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.

  3. Meghan says:

    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!

    1. Jackie says:

      Meghan, I haven’t read anything else that she has written, but I will now. I’m looking forward to trying her back catalogue.

  4. FleurFisher says:

    I’ve read two books by Carolyn Parkhurst. One I liked and one I didn’t, but both were interesting and I’ll certainly give this one the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Jackie says:

      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.

  5. Steph says:

    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).

    1. Jackie says:

      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!

  6. I have really enjoyed this author’s earlier work. This one sounds as unique and interesting as those. I’m glad you loved it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, That is great news! I look forward to trying all her earlier books and I hope that you like this as much as I did.

  7. 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.

    1. Jackie says:

      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 :-)

  8. 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.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I’d love it if you gave it a try – it will be interesting to see if I’ve worked out your book taste yet!

  9. Jenners says:

    I really really liked this too! And I’d highly recommend her book Dogs of Babel.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, It is good to know that you enjoyed The Dogs of Babel – I look forward to reading it.

  10. Gayle says:

    I liked this one a lot, and also enjoyed Lost and Found.

    1. Jackie says:

      Gayle, It is good to know her others are enjoyable – I look forward to getting my hands on a copy.

  11. Carrie K. says:

    I loved this one, too – and was amazed at the fact that I wanted to read all of the books written by the fictional author!

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I agree -such a shame that none of them actually exist. :-( Hopefully she’ll get around to writing them one day!

  12. I’ve had my eye on this one for a long time (and also Lost and Found)….glad to know it’s going to be worth it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Michele, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

  13. stujallen says:

    Great review Jackie ,this is new to me ,but be looking it out the use of Meta fiction in a crime novel sounds like a different idea ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, Yes. It is the first time I’ve seen metafiction in a crime novel, but it really worked. I hope that you enjoy it too.

  14. Amy says:

    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!

    1. Jackie says:

      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.

  15. S. Krishna says:

    I totally agree – this was a really clever book! Nice review! I haven’t read any others by her, but this book made me want to go back and seek them out.

    1. Jackie says:

      S.Krishna, I’ve added all her previous books to my wishlist now. I hope they are as good as this one :-)

  16. Not heard of it (or the author) either, but it sounds like a good read.

    Do you think I’ll find it gimmicky though, knowing how I feel about books like Time Traveler’s Wife and Other Hand?

    1. Jackie says:

      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 ;-)

  17. Susan E says:

    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!

    1. Jackie says:

      Susan, It is good to know that Dogs of Babel was intriguing – I’m really looking forward to finding a copy :-)

  18. stacybuckeye says:

    I have a few Parkhurst novels on my wish liist and this one looks good too. Lookis like I really need to try this author!

    1. Jackie says:

      stacybuckey, I’m so glad I tried her – I hope you are too.

  19. Care says:

    You write such amazing reviews! Off to add this to my wishlist…

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