Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Catapult Notable List - #1

Cover of the year, to boot.
#1: We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
I read several outstanding books in 2011 - any one of the top three could have made it to the top spot at one point or another. This was an unusual year in that there was never a 100%, clear-cut Best with a capital B book for the year. Every year that I've ranked my reads like this, I've known way in advance what the #1 book was going to be. This time, for awhile I knew who was in the top 5, but not the order they would ultimately fall in. But there was just something extra in Carsten Jensen's sprawling, seafaring Danish epic that solidified its position in the top slot this year.


Spanning the years and generations from 1848 to 1945, We, the Drowned follows the sailors of Marstal – a tiny town on the island of Ærø in the Danish archipelago – as they travel the oceans of the world as adventurers, soldiers, sailors, fathers, & sons. As each narrative voice moves on, another from their life picks up the tale & makes it their own. When on dry land, the people of Marstal tell the story in a collective “we” – a narrative device that Jensen wields with majestic clarity & grace. Funny & poignant, heartwarming & powerful, yet dark & foreboding in a way that only the events of our own world can actually be. 

I know that I'm partial to novels of the sea, or involving whales, or wooden ships, but there's so much more to We than that. The flow of the narrative from the collective to each of the individual narrators is seamless, lyrical, and beautifully wrought throughout. The characters are unusual and original, yet wholly familiar - I reached a comfort level in their presence like I would with an old friend. We always carry our own lives & experiences around with us when we read, so maybe certain themes were more resonant for me than for others, but that's the brilliant thing about this - so much of the story is also about those left behind in the wake of the departing ships that you could read the same book and come away with a different feel for what it truly was about. As much as it is about the adventures of Laurids, Albert, and Knud Erik, it is about Klara, Herman, and the all the rest of the people of Marstal. After living amongst them for weeks, I felt as if these people of Marstal had become a part of my own life, my own history.
And in the end, even after nearly 700 pages, I was still blown away by the final, heart-rending page as the living and the dead of Marstal all returned to the shores of Ærø. "Tonight we danced with the drowned. And they were us." A fantastic, gorgeous novel - both inside & out - and one of the best books I have ever read. 
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2011 Catapult Notable #2 
2011 Catapult Notable #3 
2011 Catapult Notable #4 
2011 Catapult Notable #5 
2011 Catapult Notable #6 
2011 Catapult Notable #7 
2011 Catapult Notable #8 
2011 Catapult Notable #9 
2011 Catapult Notable #10 
2011 Catapult Notable Notables 

1 comment:

  1. made my top ten, too! can't seem to get any others to read it, though :o(

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