A Good House


Mass Market Paperback | May 26, 2003

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Bonnie Burnard’s much celebrated A Good House has become a modern classic with its rendering of three generations of ordinary family life.

Bill Chambers has come home from the Second World War with several fingers missing, but with his hope intact. He wants the best for his wife, Sylvia, and his children, Patrick, Paul and Daphne, and with his steady job at the hardware store in his small hometown, the future opens broadly before him. But as the family spreads from its small town into the larger world, the bonds deepen and widen, and sometimes fray.

Burnard brings her own original voice to the story, unfolding a wonderfully complex web of family emotions and loyalties. Her keen powers of observation, her mastery of detail, her wit and her sensitivity to emotional nuance create a moving and profound portrait of family life. A magnetic story of an ordinary small-town family, A Good House is an extraordinary novel.

Bonnie Burnard is a past winner of the Commonwealth Writers? Prize, Best First Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Women of Influence. Her second collection, Casino & Other Stories, was nominated for a Giller Prize and was awarded the Saskatchewan Best Book of the Year Award. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Mar...
Title:A Good HouseFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 1 × 1 × 1 inPublished:May 26, 2003Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0006393012

ISBN - 13:9780006393016

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from A work most ordinary At what point in the history of literary criticism and appreciation did ordinary become extraordinary? Too often, critics applaud a work of writing for its ability to portray so-called “ordinary” lives in some kind of heightened artistic way. Perhaps it’s the literary equivalent of the painting of fruit or flowers: a simple, everyday object that somehow transcends ordinariness to become something extraordinary. Lydia Davis, the 2013 Man Booker International Prize winner, just had a short story published in the September issue of Harper’s. It’s called The Two Davises and the Rug and it’s about two neighbours, both named Davis, who can’t decide if they want to buy a rug. This is what wins Booker prizes today. Bonnie Burnard is another major literary prize luminary. Her 1999 novel A Good House won the Giller Prize. The award jury panel noted how she “imbues the apparently ordinary lives of her characters with a dignity that renders then unforgettable. She has a sense of the moment that gives value and meaning to a life.” Certainly, Burnard’s family of characters are cut from commonfolk stalk: a hardware store owner, farmers, a journalist, a lawyer and so on. They live in a small community somewhere in southwestern Ontario called Stonebrook. She portrays her characters over several decades beginning with Bill and Sylvia Chambers and their progeny. But what tests the patience of a reader are characters and events that bog down in the ordinariness of life. There’s too much ordinary in our lives as it is; do we really need to invest our time in reading about other people’s ordinariness? That’s not to say that nothing of interest happens in this book. People die, either after a prolonged illness as in the case of Sylvia or suddenly as with her son Paul. People marry. People have kids. Despite that, there is a sense that the reader is witnessing a slow unraveling of, well, ordinariness in A Good House. Like Stonebrook Creek, a description of which opens and closes the novel and features as a main theme to the book, life in this novel represents running water which at its worst, as Burnard writes, “was deemed only a mild hazard, just something natural, something that could safely be ignored. Most of Stonebrook’s residents got from cradle to grave with no thought for the creek at all. There was certainly no changing it.” I started reading this book hoping that Burnard would add flesh to the bones of Bill Chambers. He lost three of the fingers in his right hand in the battle in the North Atlantic during World War II. I figured he would be one of the towering characters in the book. He wasn’t. In fact, he was invisible through much of it and we don’t learn until page 218 of the 283-page novel about his war experiences. As for his missing fingers? They’re barely mentioned. In fact, Burnard’s male characters in the novel all seem a bit weak, less developed than some of her strong females. Perhaps a hint as to why Bill and the other males get short shrift comes when Burnard writes about Murray, a friend of the Chambers’ kids. Murray studied some of the great writers but didn’t care much for Hemingway’s fiction. “He wasn’t drawn to the tough stuff,” Burnard writes, “the bulls and balls.” On the surface, Bill would appear to be a Hemingway hero: soldier who is maimed in war. But Burnard doesn’t take this character anywhere really – at least not until the very end at which time it’s too late to really care much about him. Maybe this is her way of joking at Hemingway’s expense – present the wounded man and ignore him. Besides the creek, the biggest symbol in this book is the house that Bill and Sylvia built. It stands strong through 50 years of family history, through – as Burnard calls it – “undisciplined time.” Like much of what happens in the book – family ties, hometowns, jobs, politics, sexual mores and so on – home ownership has undergone a huge transformation. Homes are not built to last anymore and people don’t stay in the same place long. I read somewhere recently that new homeowners on average buy and sell every five to seven years. Certainly, that wasn’t the case in the early part of the 20th century when the Chambers set out to start their family. Burnard skillfully writes about renovations to the home and other small details. Like when Sylvia’s illness starts to take its toll and her bed is moved to the main floor and a washroom built near her to allow for easy access. At one point, she collapses to the ground and sees her image in the mirror as she falls. There are some other interesting scenes scattered in the book. And despite the ordinariness of these people and their lives, the reader ends up caring about some of them and feeling good that, in the end, family survives all kinds of trials and tribulations. In a good house, Burnard suggests, even the most exhausting life can be “absorbed by the house, by its safety, its comfort, its simple, blessed walls.”
Date published: 2013-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fills you up like a home-cooked meal. I really enjoyed this story. I loved reading about a "normal" Canadian family. Yes, there was drama, and tragedy and secrets, but through it all there was love, even in times when civility was absent. Set in a fictional Ontario town somewhere in Southwestern Ontario, I'm not sure 'city dwellers' would appreciate this story -- it is very much a small town tale of people with small town experiences. Even when some of the characters move to Toronto or London, the story remains true to small-town roots. The characters were complex and their experiences were experiences that everyone can relate to -- ordinary, yes, but not dull. The charm of this story is that it could be your family, or my family. And in some ways -- it is.
Date published: 2011-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely absorbed! I loved this book, though the main female protagonist totally infuriated me by times...I know girls like her and love them despite their contrariness...I know families like this, who've gone through these same types of tragedies and thrived as these ones did...I was totally absorbed by the story and missed the characters once I finished the book...the book wove a true Canadian story without use of cheap cliches...
Date published: 2006-07-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Quiet & Slow & Good This is a rainy Sunday afternoon read. As I was reading it, I was wondering why it had won....but it slowly, quietly won me over. It follows the characters of a family linked to one house- it's a family epic but its strength is in its characters more than its format. You can easily forget the structure around the house except for the excellent passages bringing it all back to the house.
Date published: 2006-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly like us normal people I really enjoyed this book. It highlighted the normal family going through trials and tribulations just like all of us out here. It recognizes how something so special and simple as a family can be. I laughed, and cried, and everything in between. I found I could relate to it so much, and I placed myself in the story many times. I definitely suggest this book!
Date published: 2003-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Beauty of Life I read this book when it first came out a couple years ago and have been recommending it ever since. I loved following the family through its life cycle. Other reviews criticized this book for focusing on the typical lives of ordinary people. To me that was the charm of this book. These were people like me and my family in a setting that I was familiar with. This also made the story line believable. Because they were like me I felt like I was with a good friend when I was reading this book. I thought that there were several strong characters in the book ( the step mom and the daughter to think of two - I am going from memory here). I rarely ever re-read a book but this will be one that will re-read.
Date published: 2002-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A great Canadian novel I thought that this was a great Canadian novel. The story is based in southern Ontario and follows the lives of an ordinary family. The familiar settings painted a vivid picture of a regular family facing everday challenges, and triumphs. The story is so true to real life that it is easy to immerse yourself in their lives. Warning: there is no traditional plot. It is simply just a story. A story that really has no beginning and no ending. Just like every family's story.
Date published: 2002-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books I've read This follows the story of the Chambers family, from the war years to the present. With them we experience births and deaths, growth, pain, and through it all this wonderful group of individuals, making up the family, that deals with it all. It's hard to express what made this book so great. Part of it is the writing style. Burnard has a special way of taking the most simple events and feelings and describing them like nobody ever has. Another part of it is the amazing characterization. The characters in the book are so real and wonderful that it's hard not to believe that they're out there somewhere, continuing on. And finally, it's the lessons (although I don't know if Burnard intended it) that I learned from reading it... the value of family, the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt, and perhaps a bit of insight into how to deal with life. This is definitely now on my list of all-time favourite books.
Date published: 2001-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A House that should be burned! This was the worst book that I ever read. I don't think that it gets anymore boring than this. The characters had no personality, and the storylines were so ordinary that it was ridiculous. Never touch this book!
Date published: 2001-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Inconsistent this novel was full of detail and had a firm storyline within the first half of the novel. I especially liked it because i understood the setting very well. Slowly it began to get sloppy and characters were coming out of no where. It became very hard to follow and difficult to read. I chose this book for an english independent study and I regret it because it has provided me with alot unnecessary challenges.
Date published: 2001-04-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing What a disappointment. I heard a positive review of this book on CBC Radio and it sounded like the type of book I like. But there is nothing special about this everyday ordinary boring family. The character development is even shallow. I've read much better. (Sorry to bring down the rating average!)
Date published: 2001-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's Your Family You'll have to re-read this book to really get it.On the surface it's just one of those boring family sagas - same old families just a different setting -Ontario not New York. That's the snag. Although the setting is common place, there's nothing common place about the people. It looks like "Pleasantville" but it isn't. This story is full of the people and places and events you know. The writing is something you know, and that's why you fall into it. But like every real good house it has a secret and the secret is what makes this such such a simple and compelling read.You'll be thinking for days about things that Margaret said and did. You'll think about your younger sister and you'll wonder what your older brother knew that you didnt't. It doesn't matter what kind of family you grew up in or are growing others up in you'll like this one.
Date published: 2001-01-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Enjoyable but boring Because this was a selection from my Book Club, I read the book. I found it an enjoyable but slightly boring book. At the end of the novel, I had no idea what the purpose of the story was. It certainly reminded me of my childhood - even though I grew up on the Prairies. However, the characters were just plain folk, and somehow, when I read a book, I want the characters to take me away from reality. Having said that, it was delightful to read a book in a Canadian setting. I compare this book to "A Recipe for Bees" and found the latter more entertaining.
Date published: 2001-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Canadian Novel This book is a wide-ranging story that centres around one family, and has lots of the stuff that makes life all of beautiful and joyous, disturbing and painful, but in the end worth living. All about the changes any normal family can face as it grows older and as both parents and children make choices about their lives, we can identify with the situations people find themselves in, the places they live, the motives for their choices, and the warmth and forgiveness that in the end prevail, despite the unpredictability and sometimes cruelty of life. An excellent book to both prompt questions, and warm the heart with its tone and story of normal people.
Date published: 2001-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from beauty and truth I have just put down this novel. I found reading it a heart-breakingly beautiful experience. Burnard's writing is so elegant and shockingly perceptive that you wonder who can compare her to. This is the kind of novel that tests your knowledge of life while giving back to you the kind of experience that makes you feel lucky to be alive. This is a rare piece of art far beyond what we normally see on the bookstore shelves.
Date published: 2000-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Classic Narrative Much in the Canadian tradition of The Tin Flute and more recently No Great Mischief, this book is a narrative people. From the beginning, with the author's lucid, if not sometimes overwrought, description, the book grabs the reader's interest. The strength of this book does not lie in its plot: indeed, it really contains none. It is a portrait more than a story, because it trys to explain history and people, more than describing what happens. Changes in values can be seen, from 1949, when the book begins, to 1997, when it ends, and the differences in generations are both profound and subtle. I finished this book the day of Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's death, and it seemed to me that the two had something in common. Just as Trudeau gave us a picture of our country as a whole, this book gives us a picture of one Canadian family. Both were powerful in their images.
Date published: 2000-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A trip down memory lane! When someone lent this book to me and said I would enjoy it, I was skeptical, as one who rarely reads fiction. I found it to be a wonderful nostaglic read! Having grown up in Southern Ontario and spent my summers in the areas where some of the story takes place, I was enthralled from beginning to end by the fact that the description and details were so accurate that I could place myself right there in the casino, on the beach in front of the cottage, at the creek near Kettle Point! My praise and thanks to Bonnie Burnard for an excellent piece of work and a weekend of superb, nostalgic memories!
Date published: 2000-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderful book I was throughly captivated by the the rich description thoughout this book. I felt completely immersed in the surroundings. The characters were richly developed and the story drew you in to their lives and held your interest. My only critism would be that the story did jump ahead quite quickly and sometimes left me feeling that I missed out on some of the development of their lives. Overall a very enjoyable book.
Date published: 2000-09-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enchanting! Wow, what a great book for anyone to read! A challenging read at first, but soon Bernard's characters engross you in their lives with her magical writing! An appropriate book for anyone!
Date published: 2000-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Celebration of Life The Chamber family in "A Good House" is a good vintage as the result of biology,commitment, kindness, patience and finally,luck. A crop has been rooted, pruned and fertilized and it is only at the book's conclusion that the reader can appreciate how much toil and weather has been required to create a harvest worthy of the label 'good'. There is no outstanding protagonist until,ultimately one appreciates that a gardner, Margaret, has quietly and without presumtion, tended this garden as best she could. She is no Adam, in charge of a landscape. She smarts, laughs and worries. Her rewards are quiet-an intimate moment with a stepson, an appreciation of a walk in an afternoon. She endures the ravages of time -an aging husband easily angered, bad news, unasked-for responsibilities. But she heads a good house and welcomes, not to carry the crop analogy too far, new strains to strengthen existing ones. We celebrate the family, as they are invited to 'strut their stuff' in front of a camera. It is the reader, the final photographer, who appreciates the whole experience of life portrayed by the Chamber family. One is awed by the individual's efforts,and ultimately swept away by the power of the life process itself.
Date published: 2000-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from GREAT BOOK Growing up in the same town as Bonnie, and knowing her family, I had only found out about Bonnie being an AUTHOR. In a matter of a month I bought 3 of her books, and had them all read.I just couldn`t put them down. A GOOD HOUSE was one of the Books. I found that I also found myself trying to compare the town in the book to the town that I grew up in. For someone who hates to read I really injoyed this book. I have been telling everyone about it.
Date published: 2000-07-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Slow Roast of a Story A Good House is a thorough work, but one that unfolds slowly - too slowly I think. At the end of the book, it's difficult to judge just what was the conclusion. I admit to reading it on and off, with several days passing at times, between sessions. This approach won't work, as the strain of characters and their development and roles is a delicate one. You have to keep you eye on the stove, so to speak.
Date published: 2000-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good House I have just mailed this book to my mother, as she is an avid reader & critic. However I know that she will throughly enjoy this book as much as I have. Growing up in Southwestern Onntario I can relate to all of the down to earth characters in her book. I am eagerly awaiting for another book from her.
Date published: 2000-04-12
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Good Sleeper The one good thing about this book was that it put me to sleep at night. Clearly too much detail to the scenery and lots of loose ends. Why this was ever an award winner is beyond me. There are too many good books out there to waist time on this.
Date published: 2000-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally a Good Story I was intrigued about reading this story as I had heard that one of reasons the author had wanted to win the Giller Prize was to prove a critical review in the National Post wrong. I understand that athough they liked the book overall, they had said there was no interest in the subject matter about "ordinary people" and their "ordinary" lives. I and many others would beg to differ (and I would assume that the Giller Prize judges did so too!) I was compelled to read this novel from cover to cover in just a few days. The character development was extraordinary and real. I loved her description of various areas in Southwestern, Ontario that are familiar to me. After meeting Bonnie Burnard at an author reading, it was nice to see that she was just like her characters: down to earth, funny, interesting and without pretense. I encourage those who have never been to this neck of the woods to read this wonderful tale and to enjoy the trials and tribulations of the Chamber family.
Date published: 2000-02-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Good House...lost in the detail Very slow in the beginning. Too much detail of the scenery, buildings and not enough of detail about the characters that we are supposed to know. As the story continues there is a great influx of new charaters that makes it impossible to remember who everyone is...had to keep flipping back to jog my memory. The best read is in the second quarter of the novel. Overall an average book.
Date published: 2000-02-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Good House; A Bad Book How could this incredibly boring book have even been nominated for a prize, nevermind the winner? One despairs of establishment-accepted Canadian culture after looking forward to reading this book & failing at the attempt - life is far too short, there are too many great books out there. Disappointment, because some of Bonnie Burnard's short stories have been quite good. I think she should confine herself to these - just brief glimpses through the windows of the lives of these people might have been much more tantalizing.
Date published: 2000-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Typically Canadian!!! The story starts slowly and it takes a while before you're hooked. However, once you are embroilled in the lives of these family members, you don't want the book to end. Beautifully written, full of surprises to keep the reader on their toes. Loved it!
Date published: 2000-02-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Good House Weak story; people had no depth. What annoyed me most was the author's constant use of referring to children as "kids." I didn't get past the first few pages.
Date published: 2000-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from captures Lambton County Having grown up in the 1950's & 60's in Lambton County, near Forest, Ontario I can say that Bonnie Burnard captures the character of that area. I am so glad that someone has written a worthy novel of this wonderful, beautiful county. Thank you
Date published: 1999-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Functional family for a change I just finished this book this morning and found it to be a very enjoyable read. It was nice to read an "epic" novel about a family that worked together though adversity, sorrow, and interesting life decisions. Though I thought Pilgrim was a "shoe in" for the Giller, A Good House is definitely a worthy winner of this prize.
Date published: 1999-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Burnard for Giller! What a wonderful book. It was difficult to read the novel without placing faces on the characters from my own life. It was enjoyable to read, and i'm already looking forward to my second reading. Good luck at the Giller awards (Aunt) Bonnie.
Date published: 1999-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Good House is a Great Story For me this thoughtful, loving chronicle of a seemingly unexceptional family affirms and indeed ennobles, our flawed and vulnerable humanity! Ms. Burnard portrays 50 years in the life of the Chambers family by selecting certain years (from 1949 to 1997) to feature key events and exchanges. Burnard's narrative is a splendid balance of profound engagement and restraint: we meet people face-to-face in their homes and neighbourhoods without any gloss, artifice or false psychologizing. Real people dealing as best they can with challenges big and small, these characters live on in my memory. I learned much about life, love and strength of spirit from this reading and look forward to my next go round. Thanks Bonnie!
Date published: 1999-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "A Good House" is a Great Story For me this thoughtful, loving chronicle of a seemingly unexceptional family affirms and indeed ennobles, our flawed and vulnerable humanity! Ms. Burnard portrays 50 years in the life of the Chambers family by selecting certain years (from 1949 to 1997) to feature key events and exchanges. Burnard's narrative is a splendid balance of profound engagement and restraint: we meet people face-to-face in their homes and neighbourhoods without any gloss, artifice or false psychologizing. Real people dealing as best they can with challenges big and small, these characters live on in my memory. I learned much about life, love and strength of spirit from this reading and look forward to my next go round. Thanks Bonnie!
Date published: 1999-10-23