Time for the second installment in this year’s Canada Reads series. This time I’m looking at Essex County by Jeff Lemire. This is an interesting one, and the one I was most looking forward to trying, as it is it the first graphic novel to be selected for Canada Reads.
It is a behemoth of a book, twice the size of any of the others, but being mostly graphics it makes for fast reading. My sister and I each finished it in about 3 hours. I suspect this, and the impression that maybe it lacks depth because of it, will be Essex County‘s biggest stumbling block when it comes to the debates. I found it quite engaging, though.
The bulk of the book is actually a collection of three graphic novels, each set in the same rural county of souther Ontario and loosely tied to one another. I’ve always liked this kind of storytelling, where you see hints at how all these different stories are connected, and that maybe they are all facets of the same thing. Yet at the same time it always makes me yearn for a bit more of that connection. (Interestingly, this is the same thing that I ended up really enjoying about Nikolski, the winner of last year’s Canada Reads.)
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the stuff that came at the end, after the three main novels had concluded. They seemed somewhat tacked on, which is understandable considering they are the smaller bits of a collection rather than the end of a novel, but I wish there had been more of a demarcation between these two. I felt that rather than a good ending to the trilogy, the story kind of wasted away into these bits and pieces at the end.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book quite a bit (I think having an appropriate reading soundtrack may make a big difference here), felt connected to the characters, and really enjoyed how things came together in the end, with the reader given enough information to know where everything lay without having it all detailed piece by piece. One leaves the book with a real sense that this place exists and these people are real, even if we are only with them a short time.