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.

About The Author

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...
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HIS WHOLE LIFE
HIS WHOLE LIFE

by Elizabeth Hay

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Details & Specs

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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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