17 July 2010
The Origin of Species by Nino Ricci
Thoughts and Reflection:
In general I do not read the synopsis or comments about a book until after I have finished reading the book. About half way through the novel, I read the cover comments and came across this: "From one of the country's most profound interpreters of the human heart, The Origin of Species is a novel of emotional intensity, fierce intelligence, and searing humour." I whole-heartedly agree with this comment. Characterisation is an aspect I hold of highest importance in a novel. Nino Ricci fully convinced me of his characters and richly developed their personalities to the point that I felt that they might well be close confidants of mine. Within the first book, we are well acquainted with the struggles and dark secrets of the protagonist, yet the reader has not been drowned in endless pages of psycho-ramblings and description.
This novel covered a plethora of themes: fatherhood, death, illness, suicide, hatred, dating, relationships, family, sex, life direction, religion, Darwinism, depression, stagnation, war, Canadian identity, Trudeau-ism, Quebec separatism and language laws, immigration, the Cold War, Chernobyl, Glasnost, AIDS and homosexuality, and so on. The themes were discussed in the course of a year in Alex's life. This had the effect of discussing each theme with weight and time, yet without exhausting the topic or dragging the reader through endless philosophic ramblings. The story takes place in the 1980s in Montreal, Canada. It follows the life of a PhD student, Alex, at Concordia University over the course of a year.
This book, if the reader strongly related to the protagonist, can be incredibly difficult to read. I related to the protagonist, Alex, but was also repulsed and frustrated with him, which I supposed indicates the authors understanding of humanity. I was frustrated with the stagnation in Alex's life, his awareness of the stagnation, his understanding of the problems, but his inability to change anything, to address his problems. The novel walks the protagonist through different aspects of his life and personal stagnation. Somehow, for all the circumstances, Alex manages to sort himself out enough to make a move, though this novel is in now way about putting oneself right. It's simply a book about an individual figuring out himself and life in general. It is a wander, a weaving through life, not a linear record of progress, which contrasts the persistent theme of Darwinism and evolution.
I appreciated the unassuming nature of the novel. We learn incredible things about Alex, about his thoughts, his past, his personality, both shocking and expected. Yet, despite learning appalling facts about Alex and his past, the book does not take on a judging tone. When Alex finally begins to make some changes in his life, there is no indication whether he is making any kind of progress or positive step. The simple act of moving is enough.
All in all, I loved the book. I had a hard time putting it down and out of my mind, if I did manage to put it down. I would most certainly recommend this book, but with the warning that it does cover some pretty heavy topics that not all readers would be comfortable reading about.
Nino Ricci was born in Ontario, Canada to a family of Italian immigrants. He attended the University of Florence in a non-degree program, before obtaining his BA in English from York University in Toronto. He went on to obtain his MA in Englihs and Creative Writing at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. He has worked at a number of Universities and colleges in both the USA and Canada and has written a number of successful novels. The Origin of Species was publishin in 2008 and won both the Governor General's Award for Fiction and the Canadian Authors Association award for Fiction. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
Things I Loved about this Novel:
1. The brutal honesty as the reader learns all about Alex, his strengths and his dark secrets.
2. Esther and her battle with Multiple Sclerosis
3. The many themes, adequately discussed in depth, but never exhausted
4. The Canadianisms, Montreal references, and insight into the 1980s
5. The characters