Legend of a Suicide by David Vann

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Legend of a Suicide by David Vann

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Buy Legend of a Suicide by David Vann at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Set in small town Alaska and the wildnerness, Legend of a Suicide looks at the shadow cast by suicide. It's not easy reading but it is utterly compelling and highly recommended by Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141043784

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Some books defy categorisation and that's the case with Legend of a Suicide. Is it Literary Fiction? Is it a series of short stories linked by a common theme, or a novella with supporting pieces? Is it fiction with a strong autobiographical thread running through it? The simple answer to all these questions is yes – for the book is all that and more. It's also a compelling page-turner – I began reading at ten o'clock last night and finished it at three thirty this morning, resenting every moment away from the book.

Roy's father had the habit of failure. He wasn't a particularly good dentist and his career as a commercial fisherman didn't work out. Relationships foundered in his wake and his only successful act was to use his .44 magnum to blow his brains out. In the first piece in the book – Ichthyology – Roy tells of his childhood, (with guns and violence running through it as a chilling thread) his parent's marriage and inevitable divorce. There's grim humour and affectionate insight. So far, so semi-autobiographical as the author's father killed himself when he was thirteen and it's difficult not to draw conclusions from the fact that the author's father was James Vann and Roy's father was Jim Fenn.

The major part of Legend of a Suicide is the novella Sukkwan Island. Thirteen year-old Roy and his father head off into the Alaskan wilderness with the intention of living off the land for a year. It's an expedition that's ill-conceived, under-provisioned and ill-fated. Selfishly, Jim is there to rid himself of his demons and Roy must try and ignore the night-time sobbing and balance out the false bonhomie of the daylight hours. The labour-intensive days and mental stress are described almost unemotionally and are all the more chilling because of that.

Neither Jim nor Roy have the skills to survive in the extreme conditions and Roy certainly lacks the will, but by the end of the first part of the novella Roy has extracted a brutal revenge on his father – and David Vann has delivered an unsubtle, but shocking message to his own parent.

In the second part of the novella the narration is taken over by the fictional Jim, but I found it difficult not to read this as a continuation of the words that David Vann needed to speak to his own father. It's part horror and a compelling mixture of anger, grief and loss. It comes from deep within the soul and I doubt that it could have been written by someone without the author's background. The writing is tightly controlled, with occasional bursts of violence almost a metaphor for anger, but I did wonder how Vann would fare with a subject which wasn't at least partly autobiographical.

Legend of a Suicide is not an easy read. There's a sense of delving too deeply into the mind of another human being and being slightly uncomfortable with what you find. There are images which will stay with me for a long time, but I doubt that the story will ever completely go away.

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

Few books can measure up to Legend of a Suicide but you might appreciate Kennedy's Brain by Henning Mankell or Depths by the same author.

Buy Legend of a Suicide by David Vann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Legend of a Suicide by David Vann at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Legend of a Suicide by David Vann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Legend of a Suicide by David Vann at Amazon.com.

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