His Whole Life by Elizabeth HayHis Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

His Whole Life

byElizabeth Hay

Hardcover | January 12, 2017

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Finalist for the 2016 Ottawa Book Award for Fiction

From the #1 nationally bestselling, Giller Prize-winning author of Late Nights on Air and Alone in the Classroom, comes an irresistible new novel that has everything we would hope for from this celebrated author -- and more.

     Starting with something as simple as a boy who wants a dog, His Whole Life takes us into a richly intimate world where everything that matters to him is at risk: family, nature, home.
     At the outset ten-year-old Jim and his Canadian mother and American father are on a journey from New York City to a lake in eastern Ontario during the last hot days of August. What unfolds is a completely enveloping story that spans a few pivotal years of his youth. Moving from city to country, summer to winter, wellbeing to illness, the novel charts the deepening bond between mother and son even as the family comes apart.
     Set in the mid-1990s, when Quebec is on the verge of leaving Canada, this captivating novel is an unconventional coming of age story as only Elizabeth Hay could tell it. It draws readers in with its warmth, wisdom, its vivid sense of place, its searching honesty, and nuanced portrait of the lives of one family and those closest to it. Hay explores the mystery of how members of a family can hurt each other so deeply, and remember those hurts in such detail, yet find openings that shock them with love and forgiveness. This is vintage Elizabeth Hay at the height of her powers.
ELIZABETH HAY is the author of the #1 nationally bestselling novel Alone in the Classroom, the Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel Late Nights On Air, as well as three other award-winning works of fiction, A Student of Weather, Garbo Laughs, and Small Change. Formerly a radio broadcaster, she spent a number of years in Mexico and New...
Title:His Whole LifeFormat:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 8.51 × 5.74 × 1.49 inPublished:January 12, 2017Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771038593

ISBN - 13:9780771038594

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating story Didn't know how much I would enjoy this book but surpassed my expectations, beautifully written
Date published: 2018-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Had a hard time putting down the book
Date published: 2018-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from So good I looked up all her other books...and read them too Love this author, I cannot wait to see what she writes next
Date published: 2017-10-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ok Found it somewhat dry at times.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible Enjoyed every moment reading this book
Date published: 2017-09-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Maybe it is me.... I didn't enjoy this as much as I wanted to. Perhaps a bit of a slow read for me and had a hard time getting into it. Although it is a beautiful novel. One that I should read again at some point.
Date published: 2016-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully written I read this in two days - a great story well written. As I went through it, I had to stop a few times and interrupt my reading companion (who was engrossed in his own book) to share a beautifully written and thought-provoking sentence or phrase. I will now read everything else Elizabeth Hay has written.
Date published: 2016-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Novel *I won this book on Goodreads giveaways* Oh my, what a great novel. The thing I enjoyed about this novel is that it portrays normal, everyday life. There is not a lot of anticipation, and you are not waiting for something "big" to happen. It is basically a story of a boy and his mother. Jim is ten yrs old when the story starts and it starts on a trip to the lake in Canada. While driving, Jim asks his parents, Nan and George, "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" I was hooked at this point. The story moves between the lake and New York city, where Jim lives with his parents. I loved the time spent at the lake, the author does an amazing job of describing the setting. "The sky turned into a night highway and stars were headlights bearing down upon them." Along the way, different characters come into play and I really liked them all, especially Lulu who is Nan's childhood friend. There is a lot of tension between Lulu and her brother. Jim's father also has issues with his brother and this tension among families is present throughout the book. I liked reading about these different families and how they dealt with conflict and different opinions about all sorts of things. As a background, the Quebec referendum is also mentioned many times and affects Jim's mother in different ways. I liked the way the author depicted Canada and Canadians. Lulu says "It's a dull country, darling. Admit it. It has no depth. Nothing important happens here. Nothing interesting. Canada is the centre of nothing." The author, in this instance, is referencing Nan's worry about the outcome of the referendum and Lulu's hope that Quebec will separate from the rest of Canada. "She wanted Quebec to finally break away and then watch complacent Canada shatter into pieces." I truly enjoyed this novel and can't believe I have never read any of this author's other books. I will be looking for them now.
Date published: 2015-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sad, nuanced, contemplative family portrait Elizabeth Hay writes with such precision about the subtle ways family members and friends hurt each other. Follows a sensitive and perceptive boy, his articulate Canadian mother, and withdrawn American father over several years as illness and acrimony slowly pull them apart. Though the backdrop of the Quebec referendum at times feels too on-the-nose, the characters' wounds and self-realizations felt raw and real. I really liked this novel.
Date published: 2015-06-15

Bookclub Guide

1. This book revolves around families – the relationships of parents with children, especially mothers and sons, and siblings with each other. What do you think the significance is of the epigraph from George Oppen, referring to ". . . an old dream of families dispersing into adulthood?"2. Nan says, “Doing something terrible doesn’t define you for the rest of your life,” (p. 296) yet the characters often think and ask each other about the worst things they’ve done. Does Nan really believe what she says above? How does the past shape the various characters and their actions? Do you think worst things define people forever? And what happens if your worst thing is also your best thing?3. The book is set at a particular moment in Canadian history. Discuss the ways the question of Quebec's separation resonate in the novel as a whole, and why do you think the author decided to set the novel at this particular time.4. Jim and Nan visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization and learn about the Dorset people. How does that visit and the story of the Dorset relate to Jim and Nan’s own life?5. Nature and a sense of place are keenly important in the novel. How does a yearning for nature and home  define the characters and affect the decisions they make in their lives?6. Nan says to Jim, “The gods sweep down and change things,” (p. 8) and that there are “accidents of death and birth.” (p. 9) How does her sense of invisible and often random forces operating in the world echo in her own life?7. Jim is often caught between his parents, an “indecisive father and over-decisive mother.”(p. 88) In what ways does Jim learn to navigate his way between them? What does he identify as his parents' different needs? And how does he adapt his behaviour in response to them? In what ways is his relationship with his mother different from that with his father? 8. Describe Nan and Lulu's friendship, one which has sustained itself over time. In spite of their differences, they complement each other in particular ways. Discuss.9. At the core of Lulu's sadness is the way in which she feels betrayed by her dying parent and her brother. Discuss the ways in which Lulu and her brother find forgiveness. 10. At one point, Jim begins typing a story and realizes he can make what he believes come true, in a certain sense. Nan tells George she loves him and wonders, “How could saying words she only half believed turn into a profound truth?” (p. 304) Discuss how it is that two opposing things can both be true and how this idea can be applied to the characters in the novel – Jim, Nan, George, Lulu. 11. Why does George not have surgery immediately upon discovering the tumour in his cheek? Is it partly, as Nan suspects, because he wants to hold on to her and their marriage? (p. 177)12. “When you take things personally,” Nan thinks, “the world becomes very small. It is you and nothing is smaller. When you manage not to do that, the world is wide.” (p. 294) What are the ways in which the characters attempt to not take things so personally? And ways in which they aren’t successful at that?13. In school, Jim learns the meaning of the word metamorphosis. What, if any, metamorphoses do the characters undergo throughout the course of the book?14. Jim thinks, “It would always be a puzzle to him, the things he didn’t say, as if it weren’t the right moment, and the things he didn’t ask, as if he already knew the answer.” (p. 264­–65) Why is that? Is the same true of the other characters? What are some of the things the characters don’t say to each other? What effect does that have? What have you not said or not asked in your life?15. Discuss the significance of the title. The novel takes place over several years. In what ways do these years shape Jim's life?

Editorial Reviews

FINALIST 2015 ­– Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize"Hay creates enormous spaces with few words, and makes the reader party to the journey, listening, marvelling..." —Globe and Mail "[She has an] evocative grace that brings to mind Annie Proulx." —Washington Post "Hay has a delightful, deadpan wit, the kind that sneaks up on you." —New York Times "Hay is a master of characterization. In their fallibility, their moral struggles and their conflicted desires, [her] characters ... ring utterly true." —Toronto Star "Hay is capable of sending palpable chills down the reader's spine...." —Quill & Quire "A master storyteller..." —Winnipeg Free Press