Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

ImageFar from a financial self-help, in fact hardly about money at all, Atwood’s Payback looks at the concept of debt, and how various debts have been viewed culturally since the beginning of time. She looks at debts of  honour, service, friendship and money. She looks at the moral issues, debts to society, and the concept of debt as a sin. And she explores the consequences of not paying a debt, and the idea of justified revenge.

I have had this book on my shelf for years. The idea of it fascinated me. But I kept passing it by in favour of whatever new and trendy novel came my way. I have said it many times – non-fiction is not my thing. It just doesn’t capture me the way a story does. This one did. Yes, I had to get past the first 0 pages or so, and let myself adjust to the pace.

The great part was – I was still reading Margaret Atwood. This was no boring academic essay. Drawing on examples from myth and literature, ranging from  Eumenides to Doctor Faustus to A Christmas Carol, Atwood makes you rethink the very idea of debt. It may not have been the main objective, but she will also make you reconsider charging another pair of shoes to your credit card as well.

Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: House of Anansi Press; Second Impression edition (October 7, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0887848001
ISBN-13: 978-0887848001


Insurgent by Veronica Roth

ImageTris is back. To be precise, she is right where we left her at the end of Divergent. On a train, with her brother and her boyfriend, escaping the carnage of the attack on the Abegnation and the death of her parents.

To quickly flash back to Divergent, the story takes place in a burned out, near-future, dystopian Chicago, where society is divided into five factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Each faction serves a specific purpose in keeping the society going. One of my problems with Divergent was that while on its own the story was interesting, I found the societal structure hard to buy into. Why and how would anyone decide to live that way? Well, in Insurgent, we begin to find the answers to that, and in the process learn much more about the societal outcasts: the factionless.

Insurgent keeps up the relentless action pace of its predecessor. I was frequently breathless just trying to keep up with Tris and Four and all the new characters we meet. (Note: there are a lot of new characters; keeping up was sometimes difficult.) The relationship between Tris and Four heats up considerably. From time to time I wondered if Roth had forgotten she was writing a YA novel. I loved this of course, as I think given the realities of life, the lack of sex in YA novels is foolish.

Speaking of foolish… um, Tris? Sometimes I wanted to throttle her. She is our divergent heroine, with a better perspective on what is happening around her than anyone. But sometimes (often) she is still a naive and rash sixteen year old girl who makes stupid choices and needs to be rescued a few too many times. One more rescue and I’m not sure she could even be considered the heroine anymore. Seriously, Tris. Shape up.

Things I loved about Insurgent include: the already mentioned fast pace; the lack of brooding & introspective bullsh*t that frequently takes over such novels; and the fact that the romance sizzled without any introduction of a love triangle (so overdone). Oh – and the almost unbelievable revelations in the last chapters that leave me incredibly anxious for book three. I am such a sucker for trilogies. Me and the rest of the YA reading world.

Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen (May 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0062024043
ISBN-13: 978-0062024046

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Joey Smallwood is poor, and insignificant, a dreamer and frequently a failure – perhaps the least likely person to rise to fame and glory – and yet that’s what he does. Presented as both fiction and biography, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams tells the story of the first half of Smallwood’s life. The true star of the novel though is not Smallwood at all, but Sheilagh Feilding, his long-time friend and the love of his life, an alcoholic journalist whose diary excerpts make up half of the narration of the story.

As Fielding and Smallwood grow together and apart, doomed lovers and professional opponents, the history of Newfoundland plays out in the backdrop. Smallwood covers a disastrous seal hunt for the local paper, and walks across the province (then colony) to unionize the rail workers. Later, he becomes a champion for confederation, leading Newfoundland to join Canada in 1949 and becoming the province’s first premier.

Smallwood is a frustrating character, and difficult to like. From all I have read, this was equally true of the man as it is of the character. Whether his actions were to the benefit of Newfoundland, or pursued for his own selfish purposes, is still debatable today. It is perhaps this frustration with his character that makes Fielding stand out so well.

Whether or not you have been to Newfoundland or know anything of its history, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams provides a thorough introduction to the land and the people. True, it threatens from time to time to fall into cliché, but then you are reminded that while fiction, the story is heavily based on historical facts and characters. The novel’s central ‘mystery’ was not much of a mystery at all, but while it could have been stronger, it did not take away from my enjoyment of the story.

Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: Anchor (May 2, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0385495439
ISBN-13: 978-0385495431

The Pirate Rebel by Elizabeth Peirce

Ned Jordan just can’t seem to get a break. After participating in the failed Irish rebellion against the English in 1798, he faces execution for treason, but trades information about other rebel organizers for his freedom and a pardon. While this buys him a few years, eventually, the friends and family of those he betrayed catch up to him and he escapes to North America with his young family, including his wife Margaret.

Ned dreams big, but his execution is somewhat lacking. All he finds in  New York, Quebec City and Gaspe is failure and petty crime. Convincing Margaret to trust him on one last move, he brings his still growing family to Halifax.  Here, he puts all his remaining resources, and an extensive amount of credit, into building his ship Three Sisters and when his debtors come to collect, his desperation turns deadly.

The Pirate Rebel: The Story of Notorious Ned Jordan is a fascinating story of piracy, murder and desperation – one that takes place in our own backyard, yet is surprisingly unheard of locally. Ned’s story is shocking, yet Peirce tells it in such a way that I found myself sympathizing with him, desperately hoping against all logic that things might finally go his way.

Even more interesting is the story of Margaret Jordan – who was she? what was the full extent of her involvement in her husbands murderous actions? The answers are long since lost to history.

Paperback: 160 pages

Publisher: Nimbus Publishing, 2009

ISBN-10: 1551096242

ISBN-13: 978-1551096247