by Lynn Coady

When I’m choosing books to read, I do my best to pick things I think I’ll enjoy. I like to think I’m getting better at having an understanding about this, going in, largely based on covers and brief readings and discussions about books ahead of time, but, obviously, I’m not perfect. That said, I’ve had a pretty good track with Giller Prize-nominated works, at least enjoying things that made the long-list, and loving the things I’ve read in the past that won the prize. So, I usually get pretty excited when a Giller-winner makes its way to the top of my pile, and my expectations go way up as a result. Appreciate my disappointment, then, when I wasn’t overly impressed with Hellgoing.

Hellgoing is a collection of short stories, and I guess that fact itself should have put me on my toes more than anything, for I’m learning more and more that it’s much more common to come out of such a book liking some, but not all of it, than to love most or all of the stories. In this instance, I was thoroughly impressed by about two of the nine, but I suppose it doesn’t take a leap for me to see how people can enjoy the rest. Because Coady captures fine details in her characters, she brings something of a lively quirkiness to them, and she explores it with a cheeky rudeness that wasn’t entirely lost on me. The problem was I was hit with a sense that the author felt a need to really try to make fireworks go off in these stories. Sometimes they did, but sometimes things felt forced, whether it was the comedy or an attempt at profundity. The best stories had a deeper measure of sincerity; in rare instances I got a sense that Coady drew from experience, actually understanding what she sought to capture and passing something real to me in the process.

But keep a few things in mind when you read this. First off, it won the Giller, which probably counts for something. Secondly, lots of people love Coady’s writing, as well as this collection, in particular. And, third, even with my criticism, the writing’s really not at all bad. I’ve just come to prize sincerity most highly in my reading, and if an author can’t properly impart this on me, I’m likely going to walk away without being blown away.