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The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal [Paperback]



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Amazon.com: 2.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intricate and audacious, but the author pulls it off Sept. 24 2009
By avoraciousreader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal
by Sean Dixon, 2009

Intricate and audacious, but the author pulls it off 5*

I'm seldom genuinely sad to see a book come to an end, but I had become so engrossed in the lives of the crew of unusual women (and token boys) who make up the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club (in the words of Du, "an intense little book club") that I felt like a kid moving out of town and losing his circle of friends, or maybe more aptly, a traveler heading home after the brief but intense camaraderie of the road. The characters were not all terribly likable, but were interesting, quirky and human

Now there are two extremes of stylistic ideal. In one, the writing is so transparent that one hardly notices it. Nothing seems to come between the reader and the characters, setting and action. This style seems so natural that one imagines it is effortless, but of course takes great skill and effort. If this is your favored read, approach this book with trepidation!

Then there is writing where the style itself is front and center, in your face, and "Last Days..." certainly falls toward that end of the spectrum. The conceit of the book is that it is written by two of the members (or former members) of the Club, Jennifer and Danielle, and their auctorial voice is sometimes clear as they address us directly in their own name(s), sometimes implicit in the narrative [e.g., "Do you remember when we mentioned the backpack that Neil found back in Chapter One?", p.71]. At other times, the narrative appears straightforwardly third person, yet the question of just how the narrators know, for instance, what a character was thinking at some moment, is never far from view -- and such considerations are often addressed directly. The narrative is self conscious, but seldom devolves into the merely precious. That this is a stylistically different book strikes us from the very beginning, where there is what we can later interpret as a hastily whispered conference between the two 'authors' as to the epigraph (or 'epitaph' as one accidentally calls it).

Here's an example of the sort of swerve that is constantly dished up: "{Runner Coghill] was almost weightless, with translucent skin, a haughty nose -- a pig nose, she sometimes called it in her own garment-rending arias of despair, which were private and known to us only because they were occasionally gossiped about in fits of envy of which we are not proud." Note that here we move effortlessly from a third person narrative, to an abstract first person, to an intimate first person ("we are not proud"); and there is also the concern with attribution, how the author/narrators know what they are reporting.

For those who think this sounds like reading "Last Days..." will be an exercise in intellectual analysis, let me just recommend that you simply read it straight through without stopping to ponder too much. What at first seems confusing should eventually begin to clear up as you get to know the characters and acclimate to the numerous swerves and differing viewpoints that Dixon throws at you. The ride is bumpy and unpredictable and can be unsettling or exhilarating depending on your frame of mind or maybe just the day you're having, but it'll be smoother if you relax and go with the flow. And if, like me, you are reluctant for the story to end, it's one of those books where you can comfortably go back to the beginning and start over again, with a now familiar crew of old friends. It's a tale best unraveled iteratively, rather than by stopping to obsess at each moment.

One complaint: the tablets that Neil carries around are constantly referred to as "stone". As far as I can figure out, the original tablets of the standard version of the Epic were baked clay. (And because of the 11-tablet nature, it is seemingly the standard version that is being used.) Cuneiform is a writing system intended for pressing with a stylus into clay (or wax, etc.), not chiseling into stone. Incidentally, the standard version was written down between 1300 and 1000 BCE, with other partial versions over the previous millennium (as with most epic literature, this is more a 'cycle' of connected stories than a single narrative), and whatever historical framework they are built on was maybe ~2500 BCE. Or did the author have some intent in switching from clay tablets to stone? If so, I can't divine it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading July 20 2009
By Raechelle Masuda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal took some time to fall into, however the end result was so worth it. I cannot go into too much details or I would ruin the story for you. However I can tell you I so want to join a young woman's book club now!

The story is unique, challenging yet fun to read. Different from anything else I have ever read, which makes its appeal much stronger. It is a book about the love of books and friendship. It is odd though, so you have to be up for a challenge and willing to open your mind to the story.
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreary people doing dreary things... Oct. 6 2010
By Mark L. Elder - Published on Amazon.com
I can't remember the last time I struggled so hard to finish a book! I would read a few pages, then go online and read a few reviews, shake my head and say to myself, "Really??!! People think it's mind blowing? Moving? Fun?". Then I would return to the book in the vain hope that I had missed something.
I found the writing to be painfully self-conscious. Sean was trying really, really hard to be wacky and out there. Every character had a weird flaw or penchant (a ghost in their mirror or covered in stripes) and the dialogue was a clunky collection of zany statements that seemed to be unconnected (and disconnected) to the characters around them.
And speaking of the characters. Even people who liked this book complained that the characters weren't fully formed. Everytime I felt that a character was starting to emerge out of the high-faluting fog and take form, they would do something so at odds with who they seemed to be that they would disappear again.
Good comedy often comes from a bed of tragedy and that seems to be the path here as most of the characters are dealing with loss of different kinds - death, loneliness, innocence. But it felt to me that these elements of grief were mere devices to try and flesh out what is after all a farce. And like all good farces, it is based around a quest. But what that quest was is never really made clear. In the end, it was a collection of appallingly dull, self-absorbed people running around play-acting roles from a mysterious ancient book of stones that can be read by a tiny girl with a broken foot (and wrist).
It's written with lots of footnotes and asides. The characters are either mortified or alarmed.
Supposedly this was first written as a play and it has a hammy, staged, high-school revue quality to it that bored me to tears.
So, so very disappointing.
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal July 28 2009
By Michelle K. Malsbury - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sean Dixon, Author
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal
Other Press, ISBN: 978-1-59051-312-5
Fiction
296 pages
July 2009 Review for Bookpleasures
Reviewer-Michelle Kaye Malsbury, BSBM, MM
Review
Sean Dixon, author of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, hails from Toronto, Canada and has published articles for The Globe and Mail, This Magazine, Joyland, Canadian Theatre Review, Akashic Books-Noir Series, and Brick, a literary journal. (Back cover) In addition to writing Mr. Dixon also enjoys acting and playing the banjo.

The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal takes place over a period of a few months in 2003 in Montreal Canada where winter gives way to spring. Eight young people from various backgrounds, of various ages, and from both genders, convene weekly, sometimes more often, in order to re-enact the books they read. The book is narrated by two of these young people, Danielle and Jennifer, who also add in their take on things as they transpire.

Originally this work (The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal) was intended to be a play and you can see this (intention) as you read the novel. The Lacuna Cabal began in Montreal, Canada as a women's forum for review of literary works. However, there is one character considering gender reassignment surgery and is currently male dressing as a female and two newcomers, both male who, hold leading parts, especially towards the middle-end of this tale, and one robot. (You will understand more about that if you select to read this book) The book being re-enacted in this novel between its participants is titled The Epic of Gilamesh and is widely supposed to be one of, if not the, oldest book in existence.

There are a variety of scenes in this book that they are reading (The Epic of Gilamesh) that have been specially selected for re-enactment. Some of those scenes go as planned and some simply go awry. The characters also tend to be experiencing a variety of emotions, not necessarily connected to the characters/roles they are play acting, along with these re-enactments based on what is going on in their own individual lives. The re-enactments have become a platform that has in turn helped them to get more in touch with who they are and what they want from life.

Sean Dixon weaves an interesting tale about how seemingly misfits with totally disjoined lifestyles and life experiences can come together in friendship and for a common cause (re-enactment of their books), even if haphazardly. His characters draw the reader in and make them hungry to see what happens next. The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is widely imaginative, part comedy-part tragedy, and most likely entirely improbable, but I found it hard to put down and quite enjoyable too.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way over my head... or just plain ridiculous? July 27 2009
By Rhianna Walker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club is peopled by odd-ball, young women seeking purpose and validation through fiction. But don't call it fiction. They aren't reading the latest pulpy science fiction or lurid piece of chick-lit. These ladies are focusing their time and attentions on serious literature. Not just reading the stories but bringing them to life through whatever means they feel are necessary to the book.

But the death of one member turns a page in the lives of those left behind. A new chapter, the final chapter, must begin and who better than Runner Coghill, twin sister of the deceased, to lead the charge? Proposing a reading of the supposed first book ever written, Runner presents the Epic of Gilgamesh covering ten stone tablets. Rules are broken, the club suffers division and another death rocks the cabal before the members are sent off on a crazy journey around the world in search of their king and the conclusion to his epic.

I have to say with sincerity that this was one of the harder books I have read this year. Not only is the story a difficult one to chew and digest but it is presented and written in a form I think many will find difficult to process. The narrative is from the perspective of two of the cabal members as if they were writing the book and includes several footnotes which I personally found confusing, if not also distracting. The entire cast of characters leave something to be desired. The book's own blurb well states that they are indeed shallow and time-wasting. I found myself confused at many junctures as to how old the characters were supposed to be. Roughly college aged I expected mentions of jobs or responsibilities outside of club meetings. Instead I found behaviors and attitudes more suited to middle-schoolers. Even the club's origins fit this pattern and thus I wasn't able to really find a character I could latch onto and care about the fate of.

The actual adventure--and I'm using that term loosely--is the book's main redeeming quality. But since it doesn't come up until the book is more than half finished many readers may find they don't make it to this point. The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal does attempt to be a little endearing at this juncture in the story, leading readers on an adventure that is indeed epic for the characters involved. In reality this journey is so far-fetched and unbelievable that the potential warm fuzzies one might get from the final chapters are quickly burst like soap bubbles.

On the whole this novel tries to be literary, thought provoking and intelligent but falls more into eccentric and flat territory. It is certainly not for every reader. If you're looking for something strange and distinctly Canadian to fill a summer afternoon this might be a great choice. I, as a reader, found it to be a little too pretentious and slow-paced for my tastes. Maybe this book is such simple satire disguised as fiction that I missed some vital message... or maybe the content was just way over my head, I did not enjoy it.

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