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The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
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The White Bone (1998)

by Barbara Gowdy

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5861216,822 (3.68)10
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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The premise is more interesting than I make it sound when i try to explain it, but it's about elephants as sentient and as individuals, but not in any sort of anthropomorphic way. It's sad and it's disjointed and it's full of death and failure, and i read most of it in airports and on a plane. There's a short glossary in the beginning of words that elephants use, like 'flow stick' for snake, and there's a genealogical chart showing inter-relationships. The book teeters on the edge of gimmicky without ever really falling over, but also without definitely avoiding it either.
  omnia_mutantur | Dec 15, 2011 |
Told mainly from the perspective of a single family of elephants. This was depressing and awesome. Lots of very interesting and beautiful material on memory. Far and away the best Gowdy I've read. ( )
1 vote climbingtree | Jun 2, 2011 |
I love Gowdy's writing, but this novel requires more effort than I was willing to expend. After trying twice to get started, I gave up. ( )
  hagertyhartfeldt | Jun 12, 2010 |
Canadian author, Barbara Gowdy http://www.nwpassages.com/bios/gowdy.asp writes an amazing story of elephants. The story follows the journey of one elephant, Mud, through a threatening period of drought and attacks by deadly hunters. An online reading guide for The White Bone http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides_W/white_bone1.asp is available from Reading Group Guides. (lj) ( )
  eduscapes | Apr 22, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
... Gowdy has created a landscape, a cosmology, and a community that are wholly surprising and believable. The White Bone is a singular and remarkable novel.
 
Comic, apocalyptic, faintly hopeful, The White Bone succeeds as a brave and captivating act of imagination.
added by GYKM | editThe Globe and Mail
 
The White Bone is a spectacular achievement.
added by GYKM | editChicago Tribune
 
The novel is a tour de force.
added by GYKM | editTimes Literary Supplement
 
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Epigraph
Yet in the alert, warm animal there lies the pain and burden of an enormous sadness. For it too feels the presence of what often overwhelms us: a memory, as if the element we keep pressing toward was once more intimate, more true, and our communion infinitely tender.--from The Eighth Elegy, Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell
Dedication
For Chris Kirkwood and Rob Kirkwood and in memory of my father, Robert Gowdy
First words
If they live long enough they forget everything. (prologue)
All day there are glaring omens that go undetected. (Chapter 1)
Quotations
Thirty years of aligning his every move to what he believed was a world trembling with mystic revelation (p. 145)
The earth tilts to meet their footfalls (p. 216)
At the end of a long life you forget everything except who you are. But who is that? ...Now her hunch is that you are the sum of those incidents only you can testify to, whose existence, without you, would have no earthly acknowledgement. (271)
By what misguided arrangement were she-ones made swollen with memory rather than sleek with appetite? (p 320)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312264127, Paperback)

Barbara Gowdy has an utter affinity for the unconventional. In the title story of We So Seldom Look on Love, necrophilia is exquisite rather than execrable, and her wildly funny--and wildly affecting--novel Mister Sandman invites us into the hearts and minds of Toronto's least normal and most loving family. With The White Bone Gowdy continues her exploration of extraordinary lives, but this time human beings ("hindleggers") are on the periphery. And we're grateful when they're not around, since this gives her four-legged characters--elephants--a chance to survive.

The White Bone opens with five family trees. Gowdy's pachyderms include an orphaned visionary, She-Spurns (more familiarly known as Mud), and the "fine-scenter" She-Deflates, not to mention nurse cow She-Soothes and the bull Tall Time. (Though Gowdy's nomenclature may displease some readers, Dumbo wasn't exactly an inspiring name either.) Then, before her tragic narrative even begins, Gowdy offers a second feat of empathy and imagination, a glossary of elephant language. Afflicted by premonitions and obsessed with memory and safety, these animals have terms that range from the formal to the low, the metaphorical to the deeply physical: the "Eternal Shoreless Water" is oblivion, a "sting" is a bullet, and a "flow-stick" a snake. Of course, if you have "trunk," you possess "soulfulness; depth of spirit"--something every participant in Gowdy's fourth novel desperately needs. Initially, her characters' impressions of familiar objects are amusing, but bright comedy precedes dark tragedy. Witness Mud's take on jeeps: "On their own, vehicles prefer to sleep, but whenever a human burrows inside them they race and roar and discharge a foul odour." Needless to say, such speeding tends to precede a killing fest.

Alas, this is a book heavy with omens and slaughter, and Gowdy makes each elephant so individual, so conscious, that their separate fates are impossible to bear. When Tall Time, for instance, hears a helicopter, nothing, not even Gowdy's poetry, can save him: "The shots that pelt his hide feel as light as rain. It is bewildering to be brought down under their little weight." As the devastation increases, and her characters fail, and fail again, to find the magical white bone that should lead them to safety, the novel becomes a litany of pain and death. The only success is Barbara Gowdy's, in getting so thoroughly under the skin of her elephantine protagonists. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:05 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A novel told entirely from the perspective of African elephants follows young Mud and her family as they desperately struggle to survive the harsh drought and ivory hunters that threaten their lives

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