Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach

Paperback - 2001
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Monkey Beach combines both joy and tragedy in a harrowing yet restrained story of grief and survival, and of a family on the edge of heartbreak. In the first English-language novel to be published by a Haisla writer, Eden Robinson offers a rich celebration of life in the Native settlement of Kitamaat, on the coast of British Columbia.

The story grips the reader from the beginning. It is the morning after the narrator's brother has gone missing at sea; the mood is tense in the family house, as speculations remain unspoken. Jimmy is a prospective Olympic swimmer, seventeen years old and on the edge of proposing to his beautiful girlfriend Karaoke. As his elder sister, Lisa, faces possible disaster, she chain-smokes and drifts into thoughts of their lives so far. She recalls the time when she and Jimmy saw the sasquatch, or b'gwus - and this sighting introduces the novel's fascinating undercurrent of characters from the spirit world. These ghostly presences may strike the reader as mysterious or frightening, but they provide Lisa with guidance through a difficult coming of age.

In and out of the emergency room as a child, Lisa is a fighter. Her smart mouth and temper constantly threaten to land her in serious trouble. Those who have the most influence on her are her stubbornly traditional, machete-wielding grandmother, and her wild, passionate, political Uncle Mick, who teaches her to make moose calls. When they empty fishing nets together, she pretends she doesn't feel the jellyfish stinging her young hands - she's Uncle Mick's "little warrior."

We watch Lisa leave her teenage years behind as she waits for news of her younger brother. She reflects on the many rich episodes of their lives - so many of which take place around the water, reminding us of the news she fears, and revealing the menacing power of nature. But Lisa has a special recourse - a "gift" that enables her to see and hear spirits, and ask for their help.

Monkey Beach , Eden Robinson's first novel, was nominated for Canada's two largest literary prizes: the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award. The book was also published in Great Britain, the United States and Germany, and was a Canadian bestseller for many weeks. Monkey Beach is beautifully written, in prose that is simple and subtle, bold and vivid, and pervaded by humour.

Robinson fills her novel with details of Haisla culture and the rich wildlife surrounding Kitamaat. She uses traditional elements of storytelling - such as dreams, and people's ties to nature - but also demystifies Native beliefs, simultaneously peeling away and intensifying the mystery surrounding spirits. Ancient rituals are shown as part of the reality of a modern Native community, along with Kraft Dinner and TV soaps and the legacy of residential schools. Robinson's previous book of stories, Traplines , was remarked upon for being brutally honest, featuring rapists and drunks and drug dealers, psychopaths and sadists - proving to The New York Times that "Canadians are as weird and violent as anyone else." Monkey Beach is just as honest, but only hints at the darker elements. In the words of the author, "None of the characters are bad. They're just reacting like anyone else to situations of loss and death."
Publisher: Toronto :, Vintage Canada, a division of Random House Canada Limited,, 2001
Edition: Vintage Canada edition
Copyright Date: ©2000
ISBN: 9780676973228
Branch Call Number: FIC ROB
Characteristics: 377 pages ; 21 cm

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c
csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

This book was really good for the most part, but I am not going to sugar coat it. The ending sucks. The book is split into four parts with part one and two taking up the majority of the novel and parts three and four taking up a very tiny end part. For the majority of the book the characters were interesting as well as the plot, I liked the shift in perspective and the authors writing style, however its like the author gave up and had something better to do than finish the novel. The book is about a indigenous girl named Lisa and her life as well as her family. They are dealing with the loss of her brother, and the story of her teen years is told through a series of flashbacks. The story is really interesting from the point of view of a first nations girl showing many different stigmas that surround her community. There are many sad points in her life. This is all good until the end which offers no closure to the reader in terms of the plot, and what closure is received is cryptic and metaphoric.

c
claralex800
Sep 16, 2017

When I finished reading this book my only reaction was "Are you kidding me?!", or maybe "You can't be serious?!". I liked the book well enough while I was reading it (it's divided into four parts, and Part One was so long that I gave up for two months before I started reading again), but the ending just ruined it for me. No spoilers, but there's no conclusion. None. The book just ends without wrapping up the most important parts. I feel like if I read any more of her books I'll skip to the end to check that there is an end before I start reading. I like her writing style, and the characters were awesome (especially Cookie, who gets the best line in the book, in my opinion) but the ending...

s
susan_findlay
Aug 15, 2017

This book is fine, but it didn't captivate me. I didn't get attached to the main character (the narrator). I'm not sure whether it's because it was presented almost as a memoir so that you're not living through the events with her - or if it's because, while lots of things happen, nothing is dwelt upon. What I'd have thought were major events in a person's life get a page or two and then she just moves on. Maybe that's the point but, if so, I guess I'm just the wrong audience for this book.

m
ms_mustard
Aug 06, 2016

there is enough description elsewhere in this comment section - I was completely absorbed, charmed, saddened and impressed with this first novel.

g
gingerbeer
Nov 04, 2015

Heart-breaking and bittersweet, haunting and intriguing, Monkey Beach is a unique coming-of-age story set in the First Nations village of Kitamaat, on BC's north coast. This story provides insight into the culture and traditions of the Haisla people and the contemporary struggles of First Nations young people.

brianreynolds Jul 26, 2015

Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach uses the meander and musings of a Haisla teenager to illustrate the frustration of First Nations youth and the difficulty in reconciling Native culture with a colonial infrastructure that seems to be morally bankrupt. The book is—appropriate to many teens at one time or another—disjointed, confused, simply misinformed in places, poignant in others, grasping at magical solutions to everyday problems, depressingly simplistic at times and morbidly amusing at others. It was a struggle in places. In others, it was absorbing. The magical realism was extreme and at times seemed more gothic than aboriginal. Still, I think this is an important book. It's important that Ms Robinson's voice be heard

AmberKlassen May 07, 2015

Shifts a lot in writing style, but overall is a good read. Lots of interesting cultural aspects which is nice. Would definitely recommend this and am glad I read it :)

The star rating is for me personally.

e
Eosos
Apr 01, 2015

My feelings about this book are mixed. I thought it was interesting and informative. I liked the characters and most especially the setting. But I did find it quite choppy and a little depressing.
The story is told by Lisamarie, she tells us of her uncle the activist who can’t seem to make a life her parents find acceptable, of her brother and his obsession with swimming, of her grandmother who teaches her about tradition. We learn of the tragedies of her life (of which there are many) and are left with a little bit of hope, but not much.
The story was good but difficult to get engaged in.

WVMLStaffPicks Dec 07, 2014

Once again, Eden Robinson has portrayed her native community with honesty, humour and intelligence. (Traplines, her first collection of stories, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.) This novel focuses on the northern coast of B.C., in the Haisla territory near Kitamaat, where Lisamarie and her family are coming to terms with the news that Jimmy, her younger brother, is missing at sea. Through flashbacks and spirit insights, Lisamarie looks at her life and begins to understand past events; to understand that meeting and leaving, living and dying come at their own time and in their own way.

k
kelsijatk
Nov 16, 2014

This book features a gutsy heroine who is torn between the spirit world and her physical reality as she desperately tries to save her brother. It has a spooky, dream-like quality to it that is eerie as well as beautiful.

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Notices

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c
csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

Sexual Content: Rape scene

c
csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

Violence: Fight scenes

c
csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

Coarse Language: minor swears

Summary

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c
csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

Lisa is living in a coastal community in BC called Kitamaat, which has a high native population. It is a coming of age story and starts with the reader learning of the disappearance and suspected death of the main character's brother Jimmy. The main character Lisa then begins going through a series of flashbacks detailing her teen years and life with her family up until this point. Strewn throughout the novel are more 'present' settings where Lisa moves the story forward by finding out more information about her brother. Eventually the flash backs and the present merge to come to the ending, which is terrible. We don't really find out if Jimmy lives or dies, although we do find out that he kills a family friend for raping his niece, who is Jimmy's girlfriend. Lisa is looking for Jimmy on Monkey Beach, the novels name sake and maybe gets eaten by a Sasquatch? Once again the ending of this novel is terrible.

Lisa comes of age in Kitamaat, B.C., where her Haida community includes uncles involved in First Nations warrior movements, industrious grandmothers with one foot in the grave and the other in various spirit worlds, and the long-armed specter of residential schools.

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csrestall
Oct 17, 2017

csrestall thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

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