Sunday, 8 December 2013
166/111 - The Round House by Louise Erdrich
I've been wanting to read this book ever since it won the National Book Awards in the US last year. I've never really read anything in this genre before - I guess I would count this as slightly historical being set in the 80s :) and set in Native American culture, which I also know nothing about.
The only other book I have read which was also set in Native American culture was a book I found at a book exchange at a hotel in Mexico. The book was a cheap romance novel called Bold Wolf and it had a really salacious cover. I think I may have even torn the cover off an kept it after ditching the book because it was so camp. Bold Wolf was about a young lady whose name I forget who has a forbidden love affair with a young Native American man called Bold Wolf. There's plenty of bodice ripping and sauciness throughout however it was also pretty racially insensitive, I remember thinking at the time. It passed some of the hours on a long bus journey, so I guess it wasn't all bad.
Anyway, I'm not here to talk about Bold Wolf, I'm here to talk about The Round House.
This obviously has a very different feel to it. It's the story told from the point of view of a teenage boy called Joe who lives on a reservation with his family. One day his mother is brutally attacked, which damages her mentally as well as physically. Joe becomes consumed with finding out who attacked his mother as well as grappling with different relationships with members of his family. I really liked Joe as a narrator and I loved the way this book showed the different family and community groups so richly. Some of the stories and characters were hilarious, and others, like Linda's, were pretty tragic. But all of them were really interesting, and so I wasn't just reading a story about this particular incident and Joe's struggle with it, but I was also getting a bit of a history and anthropology lesson at the same time, in a very entertaining way.
Louise Erdrich appears to have won several awards for her writing, and yet I had never come across her before hearing about this novel last year, which is strange I guess. Maybe she's more popular in the US, but in the UK I had never come across her before. I would definitely read more of her work, a lot of which is set against the backdrop of Native American culture. According to Wikipedia, she is also part Native American which is great because I guess it means she can write from experience to a certain extent. I don't know if I would class that as something essential to the writing but I think it certainly helps. This was really interesting as it's a culture and a history I know nothing about, so I enjoyed what I learned.