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A Good House
A Good House by
Bonnie Burnard
Harper Collins
256 pages, 1999
ISBN 000225526X
[American Edition, September 2000 by Henry Holt - ISBN 0805064958]
Reviewed by Zaheera Jiwaji

Winner of the 1999 Giller Prize for Fiction

The small Ontario town of Stonebrook will be a place you will become very familiar with. Indeed, you will never forget it, nor will you forget the Chambers family. Stonebrook is the setting of Bonnie Burnard's A GOOD HOUSE - a quiet, wise, and stirring story of the Chambers family, which begins with the discovery of a journal that retraces their family history.

The narrative spans the end of the Second World War to the present day. Bill Chambers returns from the war. An odd time in history, where damaged bodies and souls returned to the prospect of a world on the brink of prosperity. Along with his wife Sylvia, the Chambers begin to create a life and "a good house" with their three children. When Sylvia dies, quite suddenly, the changes to the life of the Chambers remind the reader of the challenges and sadness that weave through the happy times.

However, this is not a book in the tradition of "woe is life". This is a celebration of life and family, told in Burnard's beautifully sparse prose. Burnard brings out the sacredness of everyday life by her illustrations of common joys and demands. The novel not only spans the lives of the various family members, it also illustrates the changing history and society of the time.

A GOOD HOUSE is a good book. It is not flamboyant, thrilling, nor dazzling. But Burnard does not need that. She is a brilliant storyteller, and while turning the pages of this book, one encounters life as it is truly lived in the small and ordinary acts.

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