Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje
Date: November 15th, 2007
Discussion Summary: Sid Deshpande
We all agreed that the book was well very written - the author’s use of the English language was excellent and he took the reader on an interesting journey through N.California, Nevada and later through the French country side. From the reader’s perspective the journey had its rewards and its disappointments, which were discussed in great detail by the members of the book club.
Mostly everyone felt that the book actually consisted of two (and some said three) novels, which were for the most part separate and distinct. The California novel (or the first part) was the more interesting and gripping story. We all were drawn to the tragic story of Anna, Claire and Coop and their Dad – this was very well done and we felt bad for all of them. The second novel which depicted the story of Lucien Segura, a little known French author, did not hold the reader’s interest as much as the first section. It was a harder read and one never really felt any great empathy for Lucien, Marie Negri and Roumain. The author’s thesis was that the lives of Anna, Claire and Coop in a strange kind of way mirrored that of Lucien,et all. We did not see it that way at all. Most felt that the author had visited Stanford a few years ago and used his stay there to write about Anna, Claire and Coop and later added the story of Lucien Segura (at the request of the publisher) and created an artificial link between these two stories. (He was possibly influenced by all of the good California wine that he imbibed!)
The author over promised and under delivered - this was the widespread opinion of the members of the book club. We expected more based on the preface where Anna is pining for a phone call from Coop. The question is why did she not make any effort to contact him later in her life for after all, even though she had a pretty traumatic experience that started the entire chain of events that led her to France and Berkeley, she could still have reached out to Claire and through Claire to Coop. After all, Claire had not done her any harm. The author clearly left too many strings untied, so to speak.
Even though the story line was weak, the book partially redeemed itself through the author’s strong command of the English language and his ability to paint a vivid picture of the landscape, be it Petaluma, Reno, the French towns of Demo, etc. We were drawn into the lives and times of the various protagonists in this novel. At the end of the novel, we felt deprived of a proper conclusion to the story of Anna, Claire and Coop. This was the story that the author should have completed, instead we were provided with a not so interesting account of Lucien Segura.
Some compared this book to that of an impressionist painting – basically the beauty is in the eyes of the observer. There are so many strands and side journeys that the author takes you through, that with a second or third reading, the reader actually finds some aspect of the story that he or she may not have noticed before.
So in conclusion, the book has its rewards and its failings, but overall it made the grade as a novel worth reading, and it did engender a spirited discussion within the members of the book club.