Nancy Huston – Fault Lines


It’s the third book I’ve read this year, where the narrative goes chronologically backwards – the difference being, this time, it follows four generations of six year olds, starting in 2004 and ending in 1944-45.

Sol, a six year old in 2004, believes the world revolves around him, and that he’s a genius. Brought up in a pro-Bush environment (Jesus wept), he seems to have a perverse side, as he browses the internet for pictures from the war in Iraq – dead soldiers, raped women, and, there’s a reference to the Nick Berg execution as well. This section of the book, to me, highlighted how children today are becoming less innocent and more worldly than back when I was six! Google seems to be playing a massive role in that! To be honest, he almost reminded me of Stewie from Family Guy.

I can feel it      Sol’s soul      feel it is eternal and immortal       one in a million billion googol        one that will change the world.

I’m the Sun King, Only Sun and Only Son, Son of Google, Son of God, Eternal Omnipotent Son of the World Wide Web.

The second section goes back in time to 1982, where we meet Sol’s father, Randall, at the age of six. Living in New York, playing ball in Central Park, and climbing the jungle gym in the playground defined his life, until, his mother, Sadie, decides to move the entire family to Israel to find out more about her own mother’s childhood (and Lebensborn/The Fountain of Life) – a subject her mother, Erra, is quite silent about. While initially unhappy about the move, Randall makes his peace with it. He even enjoys learning Hebrew, and befriends a Palestinian girl in Israel… of course, things don’t quite end well on that front. It’s quite interesting to note how differently the Palestinians and the Israelis view their history, and their presence in Haifa – as the Palestinian girl relates the story she’s been fed by her parents, and confuses the six year old.

Moving further back in time, we come face to face with Sadie, a miserable six year old, with minimal self-esteem and excessive self-doubt. An illegitimate child, she craves her mother’s attention more than anything else in the world, but as her mother, Erra, is a famous singer and always busy with tours and the like, Sadie lives with her grandparents, who are strict and have no time for her emotions. They want to ensure that Sadie doesn’t end up the same way as Erra.

And finally, we go back to Erra’s past in the mid 1940s – the crux of the book. Sadie has devoted her life trying to understand her mother better, and going through historical scholarly reports to find out more about her, as Erra is quiet on the subject. Yet, the reader only finds out some truths about Erra’s life in this final narrative – and even then, some elements remain unclear and hazy.

While this was an interesting book, dealing with innumerable controversial and heavy topics, I think the author took away a lot of the complexities by showing the world through the eyes of six year olds. Worryingly though, the six year olds were extremely fluent and verbose, to the extent that they didn’t really sound like six year olds! Is that war does to children? Make them grow up faster than they should have to? Or, in this case, it’s the family’s history that makes children who they are?

The book, despite dealing with innumerable heavy topics (spanning over half a century, and some major historical events), is relatively easy to read, and there’s a fair few bits that made made my eyes round with incredulity – specially in the first section.

Have you read this book? Were you as taken aback by Sol’s character as I was?

Also, do you find reading books set in the 21st century, with numerous references to Google slightly bizarre? I can’t pinpoint why, but in a way, I do…

19 Responses to “Nancy Huston – Fault Lines”

  1. This book was on my radar last year but I promptly forgot about it. It certainly sounds intriguing and I like the premise of a story through the eyes of six children, even if it is a failing. I do find references to things like Google and Starbucks incongruous and prefer a timeless feel to my modern literature although Google and Starbucks make it realistic as they are very much a part of my life.

    • Agree with you about the “timeless feel”. However, I noticed this in Cloud Atlas, and did find it interesting – instead of coffee, Mitchell used the word “starbuck”. Instead of saying camera, he said “kodak” I think (or maybe that was for photograph). Are we heading into a world where proper nouns replace verbs, i.e. “google this on Bing” (oh, the irony!).

  2. 3 farmlanebooks

    I haven’t heard of this book, which is surpriseing considering that it was short listed for the Orange prize – it must be a forgettable title! I have problems with children who act like little adults, so that would annoy me, but as I’m reading all the Oranges I will get round to this at some point.

    Not sure I’ve ever read a book that mentions google, so I look forward to that experience!

    • These kids were precocious, and they were talking about how “gross” it is for forty year olds to be screwing. I don’t think I even knew what “screwing” meant until I was in my teens!

      Other than The Google Story, this is my first. I’m not sure I liked the experience that much…

  3. 5 farmlanebooks

    Sorry for the shocking spelling of surprising above!

  4. I was really interested in the premise you describe, but the six year olds talking like adults would let it down for me. Could you still believe in their essential childishness? If not, then you would have to ask why tell the story through children?

    The references to Google sound horrific! I’m not sure why, or how you would avoid it, if the internet was featured prominently, but even so. And I suspect that would be the sort of thing to date a book in a bad way.

    Still, if I saw a copy lying around I expect I could find it a home…

    • I don’t think I could believe in their childishness. They sounded too grown up… even for pre-teens!!

      I’ve been thinking about this, and am wondering if Google is a safe one, considering the word has been putting in the dictionary to mean “search online”! It might be archaic twenty years later, but the word will still exist – unless dictionaries strip words out?

      Let me know if you want to read it – will be happy to send you my copy!

      • I can’t imagine ‘to Google’ sounding archaic and quaint…

        Aw, thanks about the book! That’s kind, but I wasn’t hinting. The lying around thing is (moreorless) literally how I obtain books now. In theory. Only buy them if I find them by chance. If I go looking I end up with way too many.

        (Possibly too many get out clauses in that paragraph to entirely convince of my good faith vis a vis restricted book purchase!)

  5. I’m glad to see you reviewing this book; I’ve seen it around and heard about it at last year’s Association of Jewish Libraries conference but I’ve been a little afraid to pick it up and you’ve confirmed some of my fears. I’ve heard before that the voice in which it’s told is not credible because of the apparent difference between her age and what she has to say. i really appreciate your thoughts on this challenging book!

    • Thank you – it might be worth a read. The voices might not be credible, but the story is interesting. Maybe forgo the fact that you’re reading a six year old talking, when in reality, it sounds like a sixteen year old.

  6. Very interesting premise, but I tend to feel the same way as Sarah – too precocious narrators tend to put me off. Still, if done right it might work. And like you said, maybe it’s a comment on the consequences of war.

    • I don’t know – I read a couple of other reviews, and the reviewers seemed to feel the same way. Think I should start linking to other reviews on my blog – helps get a better picture.

  7. 13 selena

    I grew up in a war and it really felt like everyone around me grew up a lot faster – and learned more as a result. It’s hard to maintain innocence and a childish precocious nature when you’re seeing people die and hearing of bombs dropping. I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t feel like the war made a “man of them.”

    I’ll definitely add this to my list.

    • I’m really curious to see what you make of this book now. Can’t really imagine growing up in a war(zone), or seeing bombs all around me. Once saw a man being shot, and damn near panicked.

      The thought of war depresses me much, and the thought of children in warzone a few times more.

  8. It sounds interesting. I do like stories that run backwards. I’m not sure about precocious 6 year olds though, I think that would put me off a bit.

  9. 17 Bina

    Interesting review, I´ve been meaning to read this book this year for the Canadian Authors Challenge. I think I´ll need to watch my expectations with this one, maybe I´ll be pleasantly surprised ;)

  10. I’ve just finished it and yes, I’m horrified by Sol.

  1. 1 Genealogical cracks and earthquakes. « Bookaroundthecorner's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: