Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - Shadow Tag: A Novel by Louise Erdrich

Title: Shadow Tag: A Novel
Author: Louise Erdrich
Year: 2010
Page: 256
Genre: Fiction

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Maybe
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
Here is the most telling fact: you wish to possess me. Here is another fact: I loved you and let you think you could. When Irene America discovers that her husband, Gil, has been reading her diary, she begins a secret Blue Notebook, as much the truth about her life and her marriage as the Red Diary - hidden where he can find it - is a manipulative farce. Alternating between these two records, complemented by unflinching third-person narration, "Shadow Tag" is an eerily gripping read. When the novel opens, Irene is resuming work on her doctoral thesis about George Catlin, the nineteenth century painter whose Native American subjects often regarded his portraits with suspicious wonder. Gil, who gained notoriety as an artist through his emotionally revealing portraits of his wife - work that is adoring, sensual, and humiliating, even shocking - realizes that his fear of losing Irene may force him to create the defining work of his career. Meanwhile, Irene and Gil fight to keep up appearances for their three children: fourteen-year-old genius Florian, who escapes his family's unraveling with joints and a stolen bottle of wine; Riel, their only daughter, an eleven-year-old feverishly planning to preserve her family, no matter what disaster strikes; and, sweet kindergartner Stoney, who was born, his parents come to realize, at the beginning of the end. As her home increasingly becomes a place of violence and secrets, and she drifts into alcoholism, Irene moves to end her marriage. But her attachment to Gil is filled with shadowy need and delicious ironies. In brilliantly controlled prose, "Shadow Tag" fearlessly explores the complex nature of love, the fluid boundaries of identity, and one family's struggle for survival and redemption.

First Sentence:
I have two diaries now.
Why did I pick this book?
Both Eyes Book Blog's review described this book as dark. I like reading "dark" stories more than happily-ever-after ones. How could I resist?

My thoughts:

  • The cover of this book reminded me of another book I'd just read - Crossing by Andrew Xia Fukuda. I don't know if the cover design really conveyed what the book was about.
  • I thought the book will have more entries from the two diaries, but there were very limited entries, so I was disappointed about that, as I felt like a book reading in a diary format
  • I did like that I learned something more about Native Amrican, artists and art history - I had to google a few things to appreciate the story, e.g. Lucretin painting by Rembrandt, George Catin, Hendrickje bathing etc.
  • I also liked the name and the concept of the "Heart's Desire Project" mentioned in the book
  • I didn't like the main protagonist, Irene, or her husband, Gil, much. They had a strange and disturbing relationship. But I felt for their three children (and love their names!) - Floridan, Riel and Stoney. There was a very touching scene about the siblings (p80-81) when the parents fought. It was very real, and sad. I particularly like Riel, and could vividly see her in my mind
  • The story was set in Minnesota, so that was kinda neat (the state I lived in)
  • The ending was a bit abrupt. Maybe a tad surprising, but not an ending I would've chosen... but perhaps I didn't quite understand the extent of Irene and Gil's relationship to be able to get it
  • I guess the writing could be classified as "lyrical". Usually not my cup of tea. But I did like the fact that I learned something new from this book, and Riel, even though a minor character, was memorable. 


The way Irene read often exasperated him, but he envied it in a way, too, and it was further evidence to him of her confidence with books. She treated them like servants; he was their servant. (p44)

To have meaning history must consist of both occurrence and narrative. If she never told, if never told, if the two of them never talked about it, there was no narrative. So the act, though it had occurred, was meaningless. It did not count... (p106)

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think! I'll link your review here if you wish!

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