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Shining at the Bottom of the Sea [Paperback]

Stephen Marche
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 5 2008

Shining at the Bottom of the Sea is a vividly imagined anthology of Sanjania, a fictional country created by one of the most impressive voices in Canadian literature, Stephen Marche. The novel offers a rich and varied portrait of Sanjania and its way of life through a collection of stories—from pirate tales to social realist dramas, from folk parables to avantgarde experiments, from nineteenth-century prostitution “confessions” to postcolonial memoirs. Part satire, part commentary on literary nationalism, part acrobatic feat, Shining at the Bottom of the Sea is above all else an original and absorbing read. Its stories range from wickedly funny to heartbreakingly sad and will be enjoyed by all readers—even the ones who have never had a chance to visit Sanjania.


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From Publishers Weekly

For this anthology of the literature of Sanjania, a fictitious North Atlantic island, Marche (Raymond and Hannah) creates a Sanjanian dialect and embeds it in an authentically alien atmosphere, as in the two stories that represent 19th century pamphlet literature, "The Destruction of Marlyebone, the Pirate King" and "Pigeon Blackhat." The stories have commonplace plots, but their twisted diction is brilliant: "In that time, no sailor on Sanjan Island did not know of the Beacham house and Pigeon Blackhat, I say it to my shame." As Sanjania goes through an independence movement and postcolonial dictatorship during the 20th century, the writing styles reflect international fashion, from the Hemingway-influenced "clean writing" movement of Blessed Shirley to the supposed magical realism of covetown life in, for instance, "A Wedding in Restitution" (later made into a festsival-sweeping film). In keeping with the academic anthology structure, Marche provides a preface, an index of author biographies and a selection of Sanjanian criticism—all straight-faced, and all perfect. Marche's concept is fascinating, but Sanjanian literature gets noticably worse the further one gets into the 20th century—perhaps Marche's sly comment on declining national hopes, Sanjanian and otherwise. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Marche's avant-garde first novel, Raymond and Hannah (2005), brilliantly recounted the struggles of a long-distance relationship in elegiac prose poetry. Marche raises the ante for experimental fiction even higher with this unique faux anthology of stories written by the leading authors of an imaginary island nation. Floating somewhere in the North Atlantic, cove-ringed Sanjania has weathered British colonialism, thrived on the bounty of sailors and privateers, and nurtured a predilection for pamphlet-bound fiction. In tales about cutthroat pirates, the isle's duplicitous aristocracy, and crime in its capital city, Port Hope, Marche unveils Sanjania's rich and vibrant history. Redeemed bordello madame Pigeon Blackhat looks back on her life of destitution and sinfulness. A sailor's wife endures virtual widowhood awaiting her long-missing husband. Marche's accomplished prose embraces a breathtaking variety of literary styles, from a fractured early Sanjanian dialect to a "recovered" Hemingway letter in the volume's concluding section, "Criticism." The consequent kaleidoscope of details about Sanjania renders it so vividly that you can barely resist consulting an atlas—just in case. Hays, Carl --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly engrossing "novel" June 27 2008
Format:Hardcover
I picked up this book solely on the precis on the dust jacket. I was curious - could the author pull off this conceit, or would it simply turn out to be a clever gimmick that went horribly wrong? I must say I was MORE than impressed by this clever yet READABLE "novel". Its very form makes me question what constitutes a novel.

There is no linear plot, per se. Instead, the book is an anthology of short stories which chronicle the history of literature on the fictitious island of Sanjania. And yet, these short (fictional) stories by (fictitious) Sanjanian authors manage to evoke for the reader a believable history of the island while giving him a feel for the life and customs of its people. Extraordinary.

Mr. Marche easily changes stylistic hats - and the breadth of his writing style is truly astonishing. While it may be true that not ALL of the stories are first rate (perhaps intentional?) there are quite a number which have a freshness that I found quite appealing.

I cannot think of another book which has so pleasantly surprised me in recent memory. A truly delightful book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars "Sanjanians" have produced some horrible writing July 22 2010
Format:Hardcover
I don't know how anyone found this book "readable." Marche succeeds in creating three meaningful stories: "Pigeon Blackhat" (which somewhat successfully echoes Defoe),"Sufferance Row" and "The Master's Dog." Almost all other stories are uninteresting, amateurish and seem like exercises in style. Overall, I was left completely disinterested in Sanjania and its literature. The concept had so much potential...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly readable "novel" June 27 2008
By Canuck Baritone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked up this book solely on the precis on the dust jacket. I was curious - could the author pull off this conceit, or would it simply turn out to be a clever gimmick that went horribly wrong? I must say I was MORE than impressed by this clever yet READABLE "novel". Its very form makes me question what constitutes a novel.

There is no linear plot, per se. Instead, the book is an anthology of short stories which chronicle the history of literature on the fictitious island of Sanjania. And yet, these short (fictional) stories by (fictitious) Sanjanian authors manage to evoke for the reader a believable history of the island while giving him a feel for the life and customs of its people. Extraordinary.

Mr. Marche easily changes stylistic hats - and the breadth of his writing style is truly astonishing. While it may be true that not ALL of the stories are first rate (perhaps intentional?) there are quite a number which have a freshness that I found quite appealing.

I cannot think of another book which has so pleasantly surprised me in recent memory. A truly delightful book.
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