Fiction all my puny sorrows

Published on June 29th, 2014


All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

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Blurb: Elf and Yoli are two smart, loving sisters. Elf is a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yoli is divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. When Elf’s latest suicide attempt leaves her hospitalised weeks before her highly anticipated world tour, Yoli is forced to confront the impossible question of whether it is better to let a loved one go. (McSweeney’s Books, June 2014)

Christine Patterson, The Sunday Times

“Sadness might be the central theme of the novel, but it isn’t the dominant tone. From its arresting opening sentence to its heart-catching last line, it is jaunty, matter-of-fact and full of zest and verve. In Toews’s fictional world, the everyday stuff of life — houses, shower curtains, directions to a restaurant — is given as much weight as what turns out to be the everyday stuff of death.”

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Leyla Sanai, The Independent

“The mixture of grief, numbness, and a sensation of being removed from one’s life and observing from above, are starkly captured. Even the hysterical, mirthless laughter when yet more goes wrong is familiar. And Toews captures perfectly the conflicting feelings when a loved one wants to die: sorrow, confusion, guilt, frustration and even anger.”

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Catherine Taylor, The Telegraph

“Full of eccentricities and casual, apposite quoting of literature, its tragicomedy and humaneness recall the best of John Irving.”

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Sophie Elmhirst, The Financial Times

Suicide humour is a niche skill: the writer needs bravery and an acquaintance with the act that means the gags aren’t ghoulish, but empathetic. The Canadian novelist Miriam Toews, author of six highly praised previous novels and winner of the Governor General’s Award for fiction, is an old hand. Early in her new novel her narrator, Yolandi, wonders why the nurses on a psychiatric ward have removed her sister’s rings: “I guess you could choke on a ring if you decided to swallow it, or pound it against your head for several weeks non-stop until you did some damage.” All My Puny Sorrows (a fragment of a Coleridge poem) is full of moments like this: laughter at the edge of the void.

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Christina Appleyard, The Daily Mail

“It is to Miriam Toews’s great credit that, having suffered the suicides of her father and sister, she has produced a masterly book of such precise dignity. It is, also against all the odds, at times a desperately humorous novel.”

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