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Review: The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by Sean Dixon

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The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by Sean Dixon
Literature, Adventure
Trade Paperback (OTHER PRESS, 304 pages, $15.95)
ISBN# 1590513126
The girls of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women’s Book Club are at a crossroads. One of their founding members is dead, they’ve made a few unfortunate compromises to their membership, some of them aren’t getting any younger, and they’ve been stuck on a single weepy tome for six long months. Resident maverick Runner Coghill decides to shake things up by introducing a cherished family heirloom to the group — ten pristine stone tablets, carved in cuneiform, telling the oldest story in the world: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Because their new book is written in an ancient language, the group must take the unprecedented step of allowing Runner to translate the whole story for them. But Runner’s narration is not of a common vein. Before they know it, the Cabalists have been thrust out to sea, on a journey in search of answers that extends halfway across the world to the war-torn land of this oldest story’s birth.
The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal is an offbeat rites-of-passage novel whose characters live out literature with ferocity and passion. It is a funny, quixotic debut that follows the members of a shallow, squabbling, time-wasting, protracted-adolescent book club as they find themselves transformed through the alchemy of the storyteller’s art.

Author Site:

Way over my head... or just plain ridiculous? (2 stars)

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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