What’s Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

As always I’m a day late and a dollar short when it comes to reviewing books, this one was published in 2010 and I just found it. I would venture to say this will be my FAVORITE book of the year!

I ‘read’ the audio version read by Bronson Pinchot. He’s the actor who played Balki Bartokomous in the TV series Perfect Strangers. Remember that show and the silly character of Balki and his funny voice? I never in my wildest dreams would have guessed this narrator was one and the same! Excellent job, he was Wyatt Hillyer.

Set in Nova Scotia during WWII, this is a story about a love triangle involving a German student and narrated by the main character, Wyatt. He is writing a letter to his daughter, Marlais, whom he hasn’t seen since she was very small. He had read or heard the phrase ‘What is left the daughter’ and it started him thinking about what would be left his daughter. He wanted her to have the details and truth of his life as he had nothing else to give her.

He begins the letter in 1941, the day both his parents jumped to their deaths from different bridges in Halifax within minutes of each other. Wyatt was 17. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle in Middle Economy, a small town in Nova Scotia. Here he becomes an apprentice sled/toboggan maker to his uncle and falls madly in love with his adopted cousin Tilda.

Being set during WWII and involves the sinking of a Canadian passenger ferry, Caribou, by German U boats, (an actual event) this story is both tragic and comedic at the same time. It’s a look at the fear and folly of judging people by association. Of how war and tragedy can make a human capable of things he might otherwise never consider doing. How a split second decision changes lives. The wonderfully quirky characters, sharp dialogue and wit bring a lightness to this tragic tale.

I loved the quirky details brought to this story,

  • Tilda being a professional mourner, something common during this period of history,
  • that she found meaning for life through a book called The Highland Book of Platitudes (a real book published privately in Scotland around 1900),
  • vintage radios, Wyatts mom collected them and had 58. His uncle Donald listened incessantly to the radio for war bulletins,
  • Hans being a philatelist and the importance put on words,
  • Wyatt ending up being a detritus gaffer in the Halifax harbour (pulling garbage from human tragedy like sinking ferries from the waters of the harbour with a big gaffing hook.)
  • The details of dates and times and places.

Was there anything I didn’t like about this book? Not a thing!

‘Reading’ this on audio was like sitting and listening to Wyatt read his letter to me. I loved it. This was my first book by Howard Norman and I think he will become one of my favorite authors. Sadly I had one of his books, The Museum Guard, on my shelf for several years and never read it. It made it through several clearing off of the shelves and last time got sent to the library book sale unread! Pooh! I’ve ordered The Bird Artist by Norman from Paperbackswap and can’t wait to read it!

You can read an excerpt here.

Peggy Ann

Have you read What is Left the Daughter? Or any other book by Norman? What did you think?

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7 thoughts on “What’s Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

  1. This sounds mighty tempting, Peggy Ann. I love audio books. Been listening up a storm lately. Never heard of this author – thanks for the tip. I'm not in the mood lately for this sort of tale, but I probably soon will be. I have to be In the Mood for drama if my heart is to be wrenched. πŸ™‚

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  2. Caught you on Jaffa Reads Too by my friend Josie and I've had a look now at your blog. Question have you read any…… Well, I read and liked The Museum Guard and although quirky, I liked it. This one “What is left the daughter” I will be making my business to find and read. I have a friend in Yarmouth NS, and she will get me a pb copy. I look forward to it, so thank you. I have a blog, too, you might like a look round at MacAdventures (with books). No pressure!

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  3. Thanks for stopping over Susan! I did not read The Museum Guard, which languished on my shelves for several years unread and finally caught in a major clean up and taken to the library book sale unread! Now I am kicking myself for not reading it! I did stop over and look at your blog when Josie highlighted it but can't remember if I commented on anything! I'm sure I'll be finding lots of great reads over at your place!

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