Review – Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay


Garbo Laughs by Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 5 star
Published: September 2003

This is a story about a tight knit group of family and friends told from the point of view of Harriet Gold, the mother of Kenny and Jane, the wife of Lew, best friend of Dinah and niece of Leah. Harriet and the children love movies with an all consuming passion. Lew does not but they forgive him anyway. They gather friends who also love movies, including their new friend, a journalist called Dinah who has no family of her own and falls in love with the whole Gold family, possibly with Lew in particular.

Harriet is a writer. She loves and hates, has self doubt, is jealous, is stressed, isn’t sleeping. Her life seems a bit chaotic but everything comes back to the movies. She can relate situations, phrases back to favourite films and actors. She writes her journal as a letter to a film critic, Pauline Kael. Her least favourite aunt is about to visit for an unspecified amount of time and she doesn’t know how on earth that’s going to go. It’s the winter of 1997-98 in Ottawa when, in January, the area was devastated by an ice storm. The events in the book take place in the months leading up to, during and after the storm.

If you love movies, you will particularly appreciate this book as there is a lot of discussion about classic movies and actors with their favourites (Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando) featuring prominently. They analyse, test each other, recall and watch movies frequently.

There isn’t a plot. It’s a book about characters, a family, the neighbours, life that gets messy sometimes. The author really nails it. The dialogue is great, the stream of thought from Harriet’s journal is reflective of a woman trying to make sense of it all. I really liked the characters, all of them, even the two children who are old souls in young bodies. I didn’t expect the ending I got and it was bittersweet. I will be reading more by Elizabeth Hay, a Canadian author. I like her style.

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