The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

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The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: You can overdo words like 'fresh' and 'original' when you read a book like this, but it's difficult to come up with better ones. Characters you'll love and a good story mean that this book is highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571224012

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Hattie Troutman was living in Paris when she got a phone call in the middle of the night from her niece asking her to come home and help her family. It wasn't completely bad timing for Hattie as she'd just been dumped by her boyfriend, and besides, wasn't helping her sister Min what her life had been about? Min has a history of mental illness dating back to her childhood and when Hattie arrives home she's not all that surprised to find that Min is on her way to a psychiatric ward. She's now the only one there is to look after Min's children – fifteen-year-old Logan and eleven-year-old Thebes. Logan's moody and says very little. Thebes talks so much that you wonder if the battery will ever run down.

Well, there is someone else who could look after the children and that's their father, Cherkis. Min chased him away – literally – more than a decade before and there's been only tenuous contact in the intervening years. Hattie doesn't really know where he is – only where he might have been at some point – when she piles the kids into the family van and heads south from Canada into the USA.

It all about the journey and not just about the physical miles they put between themselves and their home but about the delving into the history of Hattie and Min and how Min's mental state impinged on their lives, how tenuous and potentially deadly their relationship really was. It's a journey into what Min's illness has done to her children, old before their time yet immature in so many ways. They're children who can switch from contemplation of a barren future to horseplay in a matter of seconds.

When I started the book I thought for one dreadful moment that I was in for a rerun of When We Were Romans. Was it going to be another story of an adult embarking on a madcap journey with two children in tow and the shadow of mental instability carried as extra luggage? There's even a quirky way of telling the story to encourage the comparison, but I'd only turned a couple of pages before the thought was gone – this book is far superior.

The story is told from Hattie's point of view and mainly in reported speech. Some of it is funny, a lot is heart-breakingly sad, but the pacing is superb with the story never resting for too long – either literally or metaphorically – in one place. The real strength of the book is in the characters of the two children and the way in which Miriam Toews peals away the layers of moodiness, bravado and bad language to reveal the vulnerability in both Logan and Thebes. I loved the way that Logan understood so much more than he said or that Thebes delved into her reference books for a smart-arse answer to every situation. The dialogue is brilliant.

The book is fresh and even at their lowest points Hattie, Logan and Thebes are vital and they stay with you long after you finish the book. I'm worried about how they're doing but reassured that they've been left in Miriam Toews' capable hands. She's going to be an author to look out for in the future.

I'd like to thank the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then you'll love The Outcast by Sadie Jones.

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Buy The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews at


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