Canadian Author & Poet Elisabeth Harvor
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    Book Reviews

      This page contains both reviews of Elisabeth Harvor's books and reviews she
      has written for various newspapers and publications on other writers' books.


Read reviews of Elisabeth Harvor's books:


Reviews


Read Elisabeth Harvor's reviews of other writers' books:

The following reviews appeared, often in somewhat different form, in
various periodicals and journals...



The Journals of Sylvia Plath

edited by Karen V. Kukil
(The Globe & Mail)

The Plato Papers
by Peter Ackroyd
(The Ottawa Citizen)

Photocopies by John Berger
(The Globe & Mail)

A Map to the Door of No Return by Dionne Brand
(The Globe & Mail)

Intimacy by
Hanif Kureishi
(The Globe & Mail)

Because They Wanted To
by Mary Gaitskill
(The Globe & Mail)

When the Sons of Heaven
Meet the Daughters of Earth

by Fernanda Eberstadt
(The Montreal Gazette)

Cassada by James Salter
(The Ottawa Citizen)

Sea Battles on Dry Land
by Harold Brodkey
(The Globe & Mail)

The Broken Estate,
Essays on Literature and Belief by James Wood
(The Globe & Mail)

After Rain by William Trevor
(The Globe & Mail)

Evening by Susan Minot
(The Ottawa Citizen)

Cascade of Books

My Other Life by Paul Theroux
(The Montreal Gazette)

Dreaming of Hitler by Daphne Merkin
(The Globe & Mail)

Mating by Norman Rush
(The Toronto Star)

Women Writers at Work:
The Paris Review Interviews
Edited by George Plimpton
(The Ottawa Citizen)

Graven Images by Audrey Thomas
(Reviewed for Books in Canada)


The Hours by Michael Cunningham
(The Globe & Mail)


Notes on a Writer at a Dinner Party
An Essay on Bernard Malamud
(Written for Matrix)

The Hypnotist by Sarah Sheard
(The Globe & Mail)




Reviews of Elisabeth Harvor's books:



All Times
		 Have Been Modern


All Times Have Been Modern

Comments on Elisabeth Harvor's latest book:


A brilliant novel [by a writer of] extravagant gifts... [All Times Have Been Modern is reminiscent of] Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. The technique of both books is to operate as a critique of contemporary writing. But Harvor’s style is completely her own and makes her one of the most eloquent and entertaining writers in Canada today

--The National Post

Beautifully engaging....

--The Winnipeg Free Press

A wonderful novel...intimate, tough-minded.......

--The Victoria Colonist

Intensely believable...Kay contemplates her life, but also has a gift for living it....

--The Edmonton Journal


Tenderness, hopelessness, passion and opportunity move this story... In her fluid style, Harvor unveils that nothing is as it seems, and the most experienced of souls are often the most innocent.... [she] draws life from the page, life that continues even after the book closes. You can’t help but wonder how Kay is doing now...

--The Globe and Mail

Richly textured and alive... [Kay Oleski’s] story is presented with consummate literary skill and a sly inversion of preconceptions... Harvor flirts dangerously with the conventions of a love story, but remains firmly on the side of sharp recognition...

--The Vancouver Sun


Readers who enjoy...literary bitchiness will no doubt enjoy All Times Have Been Modern because it has lots of it... there is no shortage of targets...

--The Toronto Star


All Times Have Been Modern] surpasses most current fiction covering the same territory... a woman in mid-life will like this novel, or not, roughly to the same degree that she likes herself. All categories of readers will find in its pages the female soul laid bare...

--The Montreal Gazette

[Harvor] has the luminosity of Virginia Woolf, the passion of Sylvia Plath. She belongs in their company. She's that good.

--The Fredericton Gleaner


[All Times Have Been Modern] is one of those rare books that prod the reader into considering the philosophical constructs surrounding love without diverting from the story.... Harvor has taken a fictional character and through the mastery of her prose has imbued her with life—one filled with honesty, intelligence, courage, and a full share of hardships......

--The Brandon Sun


An outstanding writer.

--Monday Magazine


So fiercely insightful that at times the reader wants to squirm...

--Ottawa City Woman


Halfway through, Harvor’s novel seems to be less a love story and more an examination of how emotional intensity can be mediated through the writing life...All Times Have Been Modern overflows with vivid details that linger long after you have finished reading them; you can recall Harvor’s images with such clarity it’s almost as if they’ve become part of your own lived experience......

--Books in Canada




Excessive Joy Injures the Heart


Excessive Joy Injures the Heart


An audacious, brilliant work...Each sentence glistens...I finished reading [Excessive Joy Injures the Heart] three weeks ago and I have thought of it nearly every day ever since...Harvor dares to raise disquieting questions about the nature of attraction, about the responsibility for it and the
complicity necessary for two human bodies to hover, be lured, and to connect...

--Lynne Van Luven, The Edmonton Journal

Deep, clear-eyed, and unsentimental.

--Philip Marchand, The Toronto Star

This sophisticated, complex narrative lets no one off easy. What Fay Weldon
does so well in Britain, Harvor does equally well here. [Her] characters make us laugh as we respond to the biting accuracy of their depiction. In fact, nearly every page [of Excessive Joy Injures the Heart] draws the blood of some human deceit or affectation, and these wicked and startling descriptive stabs, like tiny acupuncture needles in all the right places, keep us turning the pages...

--Pearl Luke, The Calgary Herald

In Excessive Joy Injures the Heart, Claire [Vornoff] is closely related to the edgy women in Harvor's acclaimed short stories, but the novel form gives us time to grow close to her. Her obsessive intensity is utterly believable and mesmerizing, and her anxiously heightened awareness animates a world of sensual immediacy...Intricately textured with surreal juxtapositions...this is really wonderful writing--polished, well-plotted, affecting, unsettling...

--Maureen Garvey, Quill and Quire (a starred review)


[Harvor is] such a subtle writer that she lulls you into sleepy complacency, then pulls the rug out from under you with an impossibly clever line, a stunningly original image, an observation of Chekhovian depth. You think you have it all figured out only to discover that things are not at all what they seemed....

--Maria Kubacki, The New Brunswick Reader

Excessive Joy Injures the Heart explores the vast capacity of the human heart for self-deception. It's about insanity--ordinary craziness, the sort that makes an otherwise reasonable adult fall for the most destructive person she knows and hang on as if she takes pride in her victory over self-respect...With [her] gifts for compression, Harvor plunges us into an immediate intimacy with Claire [Vornoff]...Unflinching, perplexing, [the novel] is written in the wonderfully wry, lucid language that distinguishes Harvor's fiction.

--Joan Thomas, The Globe and Mail


A number of incidents in [Excessive Joy Injures the Heart] are laugh-out-loud funny...[as] Harvor takes things to the limit, spoofing the kind of diagnostic techniques that are often trotted out for the gullible. Claire's eccentricities also intrigue us...as Harvor provides us with a portrait of an intelligent, multi-faceted woman who is looking for a key that will unlock a door into a future that might be better than the present. Since we're all junkies--addicted to ourselves, our lives, our dreams, and our experiences--meeting a fictional character like Claire may make us a bit more aware of how a desire for anything reflects Buddha's second noble
truth: that craving is the source of suffering.

--Debra Huron, Tone


Excessive Joy Injures the Heart is a very moving book.

--Jeffrey Canton, Eye Weekly

As usual, she is a real artist, and a brave, beautiful writer.

--Elyse Gasco, The Montreal Gazette




Let Me Be The One

Startlingly original...[Harvor] insists on participation from her
reader...doesn't fill in all the gaps, doesn't proceed from A to B to C. Rather, it's more a progression from C to G, and then back to D.....Her writing is marked by suprises, a style that's akin to synapses firing in the brain; there are no concrete bridges, just jolts of energy linking cliff to cliff, idea to idea.....

--Heidi Greco, Paragraph




Let Me Be The One
Elisabeth Harvor's beautiful and fluid stories capture moments in people's
lives with a rare moral clarity....But the real beauty of her writing isn't
so much her technical facility as it is her instinctual understanding of
what the real story is. By this I mean her uncanny knack for switching gears
mid-stream from the story we think she's telling (the story we think we want
to hear) to the real story....And what an artist she is....

--Curtis Gillespie, The Edmonton Journal

Physical yearning is [also] portrayed with remarkable intensity--the
[stories in Let Me Be the One] hum with sexual tension...

--Philip Marchand, The Toronto Star


Harvor is a brave writer. She isn't afraid to invest the considerable power
of her language on very small moments in a woman's life. Her characters
often seem to be in perpetual close-up.....[and they are also often] women
who teeter on the brink of failure, women who cannot inspire confidence even
in their own divorce lawyers. But they are nonetheless alive with hope,
yearning--and a kind of subversiveness that gives them, and their stories,
an edge.....

--Judith Timson, Maclean's

Harvor brilliantly evokes a sense of something ominous lurking just out of
sight, just beyond everyday consciousness--and undercuts her own dizzying
effects with touches of black humour.

--Maria Kubacki, The Reader


Splendid...these fine stories mock their eerie ironies and invite us to
share their powerfully rendered concerns.

--Kirkus Reviews


(a starred review)...astounding, pitch-perfect stories...

--Publishers Weekly


Eight stunning stories about identity and its discontents.....the stories
are given an engaging structure by the wry, mercurial wanderings of the
characters' minds. Throughout Let Me be the One, Harvor unexpectedly gathers
the sinuous threads of thought, mood and memory into brilliantly patterned
revelations.

--Megan Harlan, The New York Times Book Review


Harvor demonstrates her prowess in this sparkling collection of stories.
Readers are held in the grip of her characters' predicaments as with a
precise, original voice her straightforward prose--utterly devoid of
gimmicks--flawlessly builds to glimmering resolutions, or irresolutions, as
the case may be...

--Alice Joyce, Booklist


The various passages in Harvor's stories dealing with sexual feelings and
interactions, whether nascent, fantasized or remembered, are written with a
seemingly effortless sensuousness...the characters' yearnings seem
painfully, beautifully ardent and real.

--Fiona Lam, Other Voices



Fortress of Chairs



Fortress of Chairs

Such a beautiful book, so full of emotion and inventiveness....

--Pierre Nepvue, editor, Spirale

[In Fortress of Chairs] Harvor is alert to detail, to nuance, to the way stories interpellate one another...(and) her acute sense of poetic line keeps unsettling the surge of syntax .....Along the way, she manages to pull memory and mourning and conjecture and delight into an emotionally intense fabric that never becomes sentimental.......

--Charlene Diehl-Jones, Books in Canada

Fortress of Chairs is a brave and compelling book.....(in it) Harvor displays the same remarkable insight into the human heart familiar to readers of her short stories, but here the available shields are dropped and her own life examined. (The book's) mixture of intimacy, sensuality and ruthless honesty charges the poems with an intense energy.....Fortress of Chairs is a collection I admire greatly and am grateful for.

--Glen Downie, Event

As a writer of fiction as well as poetry, [Harvor] approaches narrative with a complete assurance which allows her to manipulate narrative elements in an infinitely flexible matrix......[Her] validation of the body's pleasures is tempered, in many poems, by a rueful perspective on the youthful bravado that takes for granted the body's physical "reliability" and an implied acknowledgement of mortality. Harvor redefines sexuality for us, and the pervasive sexuality of her poetry, its multifaceted eroticism, is one of the defining features of her work. It is still rare to see this kind of openness, honesty and integrity in the depiction of the pleasures and dangers of being female.......

-- Rhea Tregebov, Sudden Miracles

If I can fault this book for anything, it is that it will no doubt attract a host of imitators deceived by the seemingly easy naturalness and directness of its narratives....Especially in the opening tour-de-force, "Afterbirth". the story flows forward and back on a wave of association, sometimes inspired by wordplay, sometimes veering into the logic of dreams....And always there are layers of metaphor that supercharge the language.....

--Colin Morton, Quarry

...with incredible craft, Harvor pulls it off, pulls everything together. In [her] imagination, the objects of memory carry within them the seeds of truth, so that the braiding of a child's hair, or a dead mouse, or a stranger's question can awaken both the past itself and the kind of self-knowledge which can only

--Sandra Nicholls, Poetry Canada Review





The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring

Harvor's The Long Cold Green Evenings of Spring reacquaints readers with one of the strongest literary voices to make its presence known and keenly felt
in these parts of the continent. What a gift Harvor possesses. Few write as intensely precise and as gracefully spare works...

--The Toronto Star

Harvor, by finding her superb, inimitable voice so early in her career as a poet, has, in a sense, arrived before she started...What makes [her] poetry
so unforgettable (and this collection so spellbinding) is this overpowering,
and sometimes frightening, sense of urgency. In poems like One of the
Lovesick Women of History, A Breast, Our Hearts, and Always the Nights I Am
Alone, there is a tremendous need to push past any easy epiphanies and reach
"the truth-beyond-the-truth".....

--The Gazette (Montreal)

[Reflecting on] the insidious kinds of pollution that have entered our lives, Harvor reinvigorates language, uses it to probe the meaning of memory...her vision is double-edged. She describes Heaven as an auto-free city, but she also makes the car a domestic haven, a trysting place where a man becomes "so male, so maternal", where a woman gives in to sexual abandon...

--The Citizen

Harvor takes chances in her writing, breathtaking ones...

--Colin Morton, Arc

Dart-accurate poetic observations help make her fiction powerful, and a strong sense of story makes these narrative poems alluring....There is some stunning imagery....[she writes] with a painful accuracy and eyes that see the world as ultimately redemptive.

--Jay Ruzesky, The Malahat Review

Harvor has a tremendous gift for coupling the most unlikely images, using
them to express the kind of intricate panic and urgency evident in all of
her poems...

--Shannon Bramer, Off the Shelf



Our Lady of all the Distances

Harvor's alert intelligence and her eye for the significant detail make
these stories accessible, yet deeply moving.

--The Victoria Colonist

Alive, vulnerable.....

--The Canadian Forum

There is nothing naive about Harvor's writing--she is both incisive and imaginative.........

--The Gazette (Montreal)


Harvor's stories leave the reader with the feeling that there is more to
life than the surface: more feeling, more mystery."

--The Ottawa Citizen

 

 


If Only We Could Drive Like This Forever


...incandescent, utterly compelling...[her stories] have the sureness and
conviction of a first-rate original.

--Barbara Black, The Montreal Gazette

Harvor's voice--strong, clear, unpretentious--never falters, from beginning
to end.

--Ann Charney, The Toronto Star

Eloquent and honest...[written with] a lyrical heartbreaking fairness...

--Joel Yanofsky, Books in Canada

[The novella] The Age of Unreason is a masterpiece...

--Rosemary Sullivan, CBC State of the Arts

Each story is fluent, pointed and funny. Harvor may not publish a lot, but
her work is paragraph for paragraph as satisfying as any story by her peers;
she can keep company with Alice Munro, Ann Beattie, Laurie Colwin and the
best of the New Yorker regulars, and anyone else you care to name....

--Douglas Hill, The Globe and Mail

There are few writers writing today who can equal Harvor's precision of
language and subtlety of observation. Above all, I admire her work for its
quality of intimacy, of surrender.....

--Nino Ricci



 

 


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