It is so gratifying to see this book finding its readers. A bit of an embarrassment of riches in the last week or so, but an embarrassment I’m happy to endure… Also, the Mad Hope blog tour has made recent stops at Open Book, The Rusty Toque, and Grace O’Connell — drop by for a visit!
From Bella’s Bookshelves:
No book is perfect, of course. But Heather Birrell’s latest, a collection of short stories called Mad Hope (published by Coach House), is so good, the writing so strong and skilled, I kept thinking,These stories are perfect.
— Steph Vander Meulen
From The National Post:
(…) a collection of 11 stories that beautifully illustrate the fragility of existence. Death is a recurring character, as is birth, motherhood, grief and resilience.
The book could be described as a collection of fictional reflections on the search for truth in grief, yet the stories are never dreary. They transport the reader to emotionally corrosive places, yet are alive with a sense of levity even within their darkest passages.
— Rachel Harry
And from The Winnipeg Free Press:
Toronto writer Heather Birrell has tapped into our dark Canadian psyche like a country witch with a crooked divining rod.
Her sublime stories are drawn from the margins of society but they are sure to capture a wider audience. Mad Hope, her second collection, is a sure-footed and mature exploration of modern life.
Mad Hope is best read during the clean light of day. You don’t want to miss any of the nuances, dense language or caustic political commentary.
Read it one story at a time. This collection requires quiet concentration as each tale resonates like a tiny, perfect novella. Mad Hope is hopeful yet realistic, wordy yet sublime. It contains everything a demanding reader wants from her short fiction — wickedly accurate, open-ended portraits drawn from life.
— Patricia Dawn Robertson
Birrell is a writer with audacity, flair and vision. Mad Hope hosts a sense of whimsy, a keen eye for details and precise crafts- manship. Birrell has an exceptional knack for the short story. Where the cast of characters in I know you are but what am I? (Coach House, 2004), sought meaning, Mad Hope captures the sheer madness of it all.
— Sandra Webb-Campbell
Andrew Wilmot reviews Mad Hope on his blog backlisted.
Mad Hope is an exhibition of control. Birrell carefully weaves through the central themes of the book, using their commonality as a springboard rather than an anchor. More often than not, she succeeds, beautifully.
In her new collection, Mad Hope, Birrell puts her talents on display once more, exploring characters whose reasonable expectations of the world have been devastated by sudden death (sometimes violent) or other tragedies. The losses her characters experience leave them yearning for alleviation of grief, pain or even regret. (…) Birrell achieves a seemingly effortless originality and accuracy. (…) Some of her characterizations are so arresting in their exactness they caused me to pause.
Read the rest of the review by Kelli Deeth here.
There’s a voyeuristic quality to Heather Birrell’s stories. The Toronto author seems to have mastered the art of writing about universal themes and subjects — marriage, family, motherhood, death, sex — in a manner both familiar and unsettling. Her prose is dense with detail yet fluid, carrying the reader into the inner workings of her characters’ carefully constructed lives. That’s where the sense of peeping comes into play: these people are so wonderfully accurate, so blatantly human, that to bear witness to their hurts and despairs, ecstasies and triumphs, elicits the same discomfort one feels overhearing the neighbours having an afternoon romp or catching a friend giving her child a smack on the bum in a moment of anger or frustration. Birrell peels back the layers of civility to expose the dark and messy bits we all hide, but she does so with such finesse that we are simultaneously captivated and repulsed by the intimacy of it all.
— Dory Cerny
Read the rest of the review in the May issue of Quill & Quire, on newsstands now.