This is book 2 of my 20booksofsummer22, so I seem to have made a slow start, although I am partway through six more of my 18 remaining books!

The Sentence was selected to read by my small book club, which comprises me, my pals Jo and Sonia (who I’ve known since we met at an NCT group in South London when we were all expecting our first babies 18 years ago), and Emily and Shona, who I met through Jo when we set up book club about 12 years ago, and who are now buddies. We’re not a typical book club I think, as we’re mainly there for food, drink and chat, though we probably give a discussion of books and the picking of new books an hour of our evening…

This was my first read by the much-garlanded Louise Erdrich, a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and The Sentence was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize. It takes in important contemporary issues – the impact of the George Floyd murder, COVID – as well Native American history and folklore.

The overall premise of the novel sounded really intriguing. In her thirties, heroine Tookie made a mistake that landed her a long spell in prison, but is apparently now fully rehabilitated, married to an ex-cop and working in an independent Minneapolis bookshop. But, when the shop’s ‘most annoying customer’, Flora, drops dead and soon afterwards proceeds to haunt the store, Tookie has a mystery to unravel.

The trouble is, I didn’t care. I quite like a spooky book, but the haunting felt a bit silly for the most part. It certainly wasn’t the book I expected from the opening chapter, when Tookie is feckless, high, drunk and prone to hilariously awful mishaps. As a responsible member of the community the character was suddenly drained of all of appeal for me. The digressive style didn’t reel me in either, and the novel felt a bit under-edited and thrown together, like a few other examples of the new brand of ‘pandemic lit’ (Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat is another).

In fact, my favourite thing about this book is its secondary discussion of books and authors. Tookie mentions books she’s read, and recommends books to others. The Sentence even contains a sort of appendix, with lists of books in the back: a list of perfect, short novels (The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson…), a list of ‘sublime books’ (Exhalation by Ted Chiang, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro…), books on indigenous lives, and a ‘ghost-managing book list’.

I have had a secondhand copy of Erdrich’s Beet Queen lurking on my tbr shelves for years, and this book has slightly put me off ever reading it.

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  1. Ha – you’re doing well; I note I’m in the middle of books 3 and 4 of mine and when I say in the middle I mean on p. 10 of one of them and in the middle of the other … And I keep vacillating about this one, trusted bloggers say I’ll love it, then others find the ghost bit, which is the bit I’m most worried about, silly … I might just see if it pops up at a local charity shop …

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Liz, this is a story about complicated and shifting relationships as much as anything. The ghost story wouldn’t have attracted me as a thing but I probably asked for this from Netgalley because I loved The Antelope Wife ages ago and her most recent book before The Sentence, as well as author recognition and interest in indigenous community stories. In practice it was a strand of the story about the way in which two people relate to each other or don’t, and the fact that one of the characters was a ghost really didn’t matter much for me. I also liked the rather dark social comedy going on here.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I really loved this one. For some reason I had a review copy of The Beet Queen in paperback way back in the 1980s and really didn’t like it all – I can’t remember why not (at 18 or 19) I , and it took me more than years to read another Louise Erdrich. Again the details have become hazy but I enjoyed The Antelope Wife and have been accumulating charity shop copies, Kindle bargains and Netgalleys since.

    I also very much liked her previous book, The Night Watchman, a historical novel set in the 1950s, when the US government was trying to take away indigenous American land rights.

    I read both books courtesy of Netgalley so more reviews owed.


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