Book Review: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

About the Book:

In this stunning and timely novel, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich creates a wickedly funny ghost story, a tale of passion, of a complex marriage and of a woman’s relentless errors.

Louise Erdrich’s latest novel, The Sentence, asks what we owe to the living, the dead, to the reader and to the book. A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store. Tookie, who has landed a job selling books after years of incarceration that she survived by reading ‘with murderous attention,’ must solve the mystery of this haunting while at the same time trying to understand all that occurs in Minneapolis during a year of grief, astonishment, isolation, and furious reckoning.

The Sentence begins on All Souls’ Day 2019 and ends on All Souls’ Day 2020. Its mystery and proliferating ghost stories during this one year propel a narrative as rich, emotional, and profound as anything Louise Erdrich has written.

Published by Hachette Australia – Corsair

Released on 9th November 2021

My Thoughts:

This is a magnificent novel. Anyone at all who loves books, bookstores, books about books, and books set in bookstores, needs to read The Sentence. As if that wasn’t enough, there is so much more to this novel, which encapsulates every single thing I love within a novel: comedy, passion, social and political history, philosophy, injustice, contemporary events examined within the freedoms of fiction, amazing characters, a complex deeply moving and involving storyline, and…a ghost. Now, the novel I read before this one also had a ghost in it, quite by coincidence, and it didn’t really work for me. Ironic that in the very next novel I read, there is a ghost, and it works for me perfectly. Just reaffirms that each book needs to be taken as a fresh new experience.

‘The touch was real, and not gentle. She was beginning to manifest. Something in the diseased air, something in the trauma of the greater conversation, something in the ache of the unknown, something in the closing down or her trial by fire, was giving her more power.’

As an added little bonus to your entertainment, Louise Erdrich has inserted herself into this novel as a character named Louise, who is a famous author and also the owner of the bookshop within the novel, so basically, herself. I thought this was fantastic. And given the contemporary nature of the novel, which spans a year from November 2019 through to November 2020, this, to me, gave it an authentic layer. It’s fiction, but it’s not, if you know what I mean. Louise is not the main character though, that’s Tookie, who I adored, despite all her prickles and sledgehammer ways. Tookie is the sort of unforgettable character that you’re talking about in literary conversations years after a book has been released. The layers to her were many and her trauma ran deep through all of them. As we walk through an intensely difficult year alongside her, we see the layers between her trauma and coping mechanisms gradually dissolve. But like all masterpieces, that’s not all there is to the story. The Sentence is an ‘own voices’ story, and it delivers with intent. The author is indigenous to America, the characters are, and the story is very much a reckoning.

‘The crevice was edging deeper. Everything seemed to be cracking: windows, windshields, hearts, lungs, skulls. We may be a striver city of blue progressives in a sea of red, but we are also a city of historically sequestered neighbourhoods and old hatreds that die hard or leave a residue that is invisible to the well and wealthy, but chokingly present to the ill and the exploited.’

The year that this story walks through is a year unlike any other for the characters within in this novel, but also, for humanity. It is the year where Covid entered and took hold of the world, and while in the grips of this worldwide pandemic, a man named George Floyd was murdered by the police in Minneapolis, igniting racial fury across the globe. This story unfolds within that space. It is a story that shows, with immense care, how the burdens of history inform the present. It’s also a novel of Americans trying to grapple with and make sense of their nation within this space and time. For a novel that contains such heavy themes and is set against such a volatile background, it is surprisingly readable and wholly enjoyable. The addition of Flora, the ghost, offered a medium through which to explore the sins of the past as well as create a platform of hope for the future. Above all, this is a novel about books and the portable power of them to anchor people and affect lives. I will close in the way in which I opened: this novel is magnificent.

☕☕☕☕☕

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

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