The Sentimentalists

The Sentimentalists

A Novel

Book - 2009
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Haunted by the vivid horrors of the Vietnam War, exhausted from years spent battling his memories, Napoleon Haskell leaves his North Dakota trailer and moves to Canada.

He retreats to a small Ontario town where Henry, the father of his fallen Vietnam comrade, has a home on the shore of a man-made lake. Under the water is the wreckage of what was once the town -- and the home where Henry was raised.

When Napoleon's daughter arrives, fleeing troubles of her own, she finds her father in the dark twilight of his life, and rapidly slipping into senility. With love and insatiable curiosity, she devotes herself to learning the truth about his life; and through the fog, Napoleon's past begins to emerge.

Lyrical and riveting, The Sentimentalists is a story of what lies beneath the surface of everyday life, and of the commanding power of the past. Johanna Skibsrud's first novel marks the debut of a powerful new voice in Canadian fiction.

Publisher: Kentville, N.S. : Gaspereau Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9781553658955
Characteristics: 216 p. ;,22 cm.


From Library Staff

diesellibrarian Jul 17, 2012

Got lost in one too many subordinate clauses, and gave up after two chapters due to low return on investment.

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VaughanPLDavidB Mar 27, 2019

I read this book many years, but when I was recently asked which book I disliked the most, this one leapt to mind. It is supposed to be a book about the ongoing mental trauma suffered by those who are sent to war. Instead, it is nothing but a hot mess of commas, run-on sentences, and endless navel-gazing by the anonymous, annoying, self-absorbed narrator. Incredibly, this truly awful book was awarded the 2010 Giller Prize, souring me on those titles for many years afterwards. I honestly don't know how I reached the end. I wish I could give it less than the half a star rating that this site allows.

Apr 17, 2018

Authors need always to be aware how easily authenticity slips into contrivance. Skibsrud runs afoul of this dictum in The Sentimentalists. Napoleon Haskell recounting his arrival in Vietnam includes a description of a ride with fellow Marines in a troop truck, when one of the guys chucks a can from "a box full of sea rations" over the back of the truck. What the box actually contained were C rations. The only link here is commonality of pronunciation. This exposes the author's shallow hold on narrative military jargon, the latter being part and parcel of describing a warzone. All of which ought to unsettle the reader as regards the plausibility that the recounting is by a character who was purportedly a Marine. Similarly, the individuals cited in the hearing transcript cannot have their rank shifted up and down during an incident that supposedly occurred within a 24-hr period.

Feb 02, 2015

Before I requested this book I read the comment from the Library Journal so imagined this book was going to be about the life of Napolean Haskell and his buddy's dad, with hopefully some meaningful relevance to the Vietnam War or Post Tramatic Stress Disorder. Nope, the only disorder was the way this book was written; hackneyed and confusing with no insightful relevance. It seems Haskell's continued failure in life is more from his alcoholism than from PTSD- though he probably suffered from that as well. It's not written from Haskell's point of view but by the daughters/authors trite try at any kind of story telling. It wasn't about sentiment. It wasn't lyrical or significant or informative; just a dull and boring story by the daughter of a low life looser father. I wouldn't consider this an antiwar book. At best it might exemplify how the U.S. military turns people into sheep (to follow orders) then has a trial to determine why they didn't think or behave for themselves in a more accountable manner. It had a poor ending with verbatim court transcripts and a dumb poem.

Nov 30, 2014

What should be a simple story becomes convoluted when the author, a poet, attempts to write a novel. It seems Skibsrud finds it difficult to write a single, simple sentence. Instead we find, what seems like every other sentence, defined and redefined, to the point of confusion. It makes for difficult reading. If I were to vote for a Giller Prize winning book, this would not get my vote. And finally, why does the VPL consistently cover faces and other important information on book covers with a bar code?

EPLGreatStuff_Julie Nov 13, 2013

I found this book to be incredibly moving and very sad. I do agree with other reviewers, it was hard to get in to. But once I was in, I was hooked.

Jul 25, 2013

I kept waiting and wanting to like this book, but once I realized it felt like I was being told every unnecessary detail of the lifetime of a vapid hipster that is trying to create an artful story out of a boring and depressing one. I hear the ending was good....I didn't make it that far. Imagery was sometimes worthwhile, but the run-on sentences were obnoxious and draining.

Aug 01, 2012

A worthy winner of the 2010 Giller. An anti-war book. The story is hidden, like the town submerged. It was obviously written by a poet.

diesellibrarian Jul 17, 2012

Got lost in one too many subordinate clauses, and gave up after two chapters due to low return on investment.

Jun 19, 2012

This book has a few well written paragraphs - quotable almost - but the author's writing style gets in the way. It makes it seem like you are watching the story through a fog.

I found myself not caring about any of the characters or what might happen to them, so I stopped reading half way through.

Apr 01, 2012

Only read approx. 20 pages. Very unusual for me.

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LudditeLord Jul 15, 2011

The Sentimentalists portrays the relationship between a woman and her dying father. Portrayed as charming, tenderhearted, gruff, but well intentioned, Napoleon, the father, seems haunted by his experiences during the Vietnam war. The unnamed narrator describes several projects that he begins with enthusiasm, but, unable to complete, ultimately gives them away. By giving these objects away, the daughter wonders what he might be depriving himself and his family of?

Having abandoning her job and live-in boyfriend, the narrator returns to the only place that feels stable, the home of her father's friend Henry. And it is at Henry's place in Canada that she and her sister settle their father when he can't look after himself. Much of the book is spent here, a small town that was moved after the valley was flooded. The narrator often boats on the new lake looking for remnants of old farm buildings, wondering and exploring "what defines a person's life"? Is it what we remember? Is it what has happened to us? Is it the stories we tell others about ourselves? Or what we have dreamed? What our intentions were? Ultimately, after exploring Napoleon's war stories, she accepts that she loves her father unconditionally. A novel of thoughts and impressions.

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