Book Review: Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

by - February 08, 2019

Page Count: 337
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: July 1st 2005 (first published 2004)
Genre: Thriller
Synopsis on Goodreads: Five hundred miles north of Vancouver is Kitamaat, an Indian reservation in the homeland of the Haisla people. Growing up a tough, wild tomboy, swimming, fighting, and fishing in a remote village where the land slips into the green ocean on the edge of the world, Lisamarie has always been different. Visited by ghosts and shapeshifters, tormented by premonitions, she can't escape the sense that something terrible is waiting for her. She recounts her enchanted yet scarred life as she journeys in her speedboat up the frigid waters of the Douglas Channel. She is searching for her brother, dead by drowning, and in her own way running as fast as she can toward danger. Circling her brother's tragic death are the remarkable characters that make up her family: Lisamarie's parents, struggling to join their Haisla heritage with Western ways; Uncle Mick, a Native rights activist and devoted Elvis fan; and the headstrong Ma-ma-oo (Haisla for "grandmother"), a guardian of tradition.
My Rating: 4/5

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"Six crows sit in our greengage tree. Half-awake, I hear them speak to me in Haisla. La'es, they say, La'es, la'es."

Author Eden Robinson combines mystery, thrill, and the supernatural in this brilliant, and amazing novel Monkey Beach.

Robinson delves into the story with Lisa’s brother, Jimmy, lost at sea; which, understandably, has her family in distress and sombre; we see Lisa and her father smoking constantly as her mother tries to keep herself busy. The story is set in Kitamaat Village, BC, Canada, and Lisa is about nineteen years old (this information is slightly given as she stares at the Elvis clock her brother had gotten her for her birthday the year before) when her and her family get the call about her brother lost at sea.

From the beginning, it seems as though Lisa may be addressing a reader that is not Haisla, possibly someone who isn't even First Nations; from the first page (and continued throughout the novel), she gives directions as to where precisely Kitamaat Village is, something a local would not have to do unless speaking to someone not from around those parts; she also tends to explain the Hailsa words and phrases being used in the novel (i.e. the B’gwus means Sasquatch), something she would not have done if she were speaking to someone who was Haisla, or even native. Thus, I am certain she is addressing a reader who is not native, or a person who is simply not a local.

The novel for me was slow moving at first. But after getting through the first two chapters, this changed almost instantaneously. I loved how Robinson took the time to allow readers to explore Lisa’s troubled past, which had shaped her into the woman she had become. The tangle between the spirit world and present world was amazingly written, and a very interesting touch. For a person like me who has never heard of this novel, that was something I was not expecting, but I can’t help but wish there was more written about the spirits, as it seemed to be a very important part of who Lisa was, and who she became.

My least favourite part of the story would have to be the ending, as it left me with questions that I probably will never have the answers to: was Robinson depicting both the B’gwus and the “sound of a speed boat” as being spiritual? And, did Lisa end up surviving?

Although I am frustrated that these questions weren’t answered, I think the ending was ambiguous and was fitting for a novel that left you with a lot of mystery to begin with.

All in all, I enjoyed this novel tremendously, and will definitely be reading it again in the future.

"Close, very close, a b'gwus howls - not quite human, not quite wolf, but something in between. The howl echoes off the mountains. In the distance, I hear the sound of a speedboat."

About the author: 

Eden Victoria Lena Robinson (born 19 January 1968) is a Canadian novelist and short story writer.

Born in Kitamaat, British Columbia, she is a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations. She was educated at the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia.

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  1. Interesting review for an interesting sounding book! I love that you added the quotes, especially with the Haisla words. I've never heard of this book (or even of the Haisla people) before so I'm glad I just read this review! Very well written.
    Thanks for sharing! x

  2. This book seems very interesting! I love your honest review concerning this book and how frustrating it may seem to not have all your questions answered. But it’s awesome to see that you loved it in the end! Thanks for the review I may look into this book.

  3. oh wow! Sounds really interesting! I feel like I need to read it soon! Thanks for sharing

  4. This is a really good book review! I think I'll add it to my reading list and i'll let you know my thoughts.

  5. I may give this a try. It’s good to know that it starts slow but gets better. The fact that the ending leaves the reader with questions is not something I wanted to hear though.

  6. I love your review. I actually need a book of mine reviewed as well and know the amount of work that goes into reviewing. Thanks for sharing!