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Pickle Me This

February 21, 2007

Blood Sports by Eden Robinson

Where Eden Robinson’s first novel Monkey Beach was a supernatural story mixed with Native lore, Blood Sports is a gritty urban suspense tale, though both books have in common a startling brutality and no aversion to gore. The new book’s differences in tone, style and subject matter do help to keep comparisons with Robinson’s incredibly successful first novel from being a first point of criticism, and they also demonstrate her development as a writer.

Blood Sports is the story of Tom, who is trying to put his past behind him and focus on the future with his partner Paulie and their baby daughter Mel. However as the story opens with a letter written to Mel to be read on her eighteenth birthday, a reader can infer that his domestic dreams will be thwarted. Soon into the book Tom and his family are launched into an absolute nightmare of torture, connected to events in his and Paulie’s pasts involving drugs, crime and dodgy deals. And these scenes would be unbearable to read if we did not know from his letter that Tom, Paulie and Mel emerge all right in the end, however damaged.

Where Robinson’s writing is most compelling is in her depictions of light in the dark. Tom and Paulie’s relationship is strong against all odds, in a bleak and horrible world. Similarly Tom’s love for his daughter is ever present throughout all his agony, particularly in the letter he writes for her. And of course, as in Monkey Beach Robinson also writes the dark with skill– scenes of torture and desperation that had me cringing and wincing, and she didn’t shy away from any of it. So of course, I couldn’t either.

Robinson has produced a literary thriller. Literary because her prose is important, but also because one cannot rip right through this book in order to get quick to the end. This is not an overly accessible text– parts are written as flashbacks, hallucinations, letters and video transcripts, all of which provide quite subjective perspectives upon the book’s events. Robinson spells out nothing. The reader must tread carefully through the story and put the pieces together, keeping an eye out all along for more answers. This technique is engaging and for the most part successful, though I did lament the absence of a narrative voice in the rather mechanical video transcripts, only because Robinson’s voices are so wonderful.

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