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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Fault Lines

Nancy Huston

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To purchase Fault Lines

Title: Fault Lines
Author: Nancy Huston
Genre: Novel
Written: (2006)
Length: 304 pages
Availability: Fault Lines - US
Fault Lines - UK
Fault Lines - Canada
Lignes de faille - Canada
Fault Lines - India
Lignes de faille - France
Ein winziger Makel - Deutschland
Un difetto impercettibile - Italia
Marcas de nacimiento - España
  • Although first published in French as Lignes de faille in 2006, Fault Lines was (contrary to what many of the reviews claim) apparently originally written in English and translated into French by the author; the first English-language edition was the Australian (!) one in 2007
  • Awarded the Prix Femina

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Our Assessment:

B+ : unusual but effective presentation, and a good read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 21/9/2007 Helen Elliott
Financial Times . 14/7/2008 James Urquhart
The Guardian . 15/3/2008 Joanna Briscoe
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/11/2008 Susann Cokal
NZZ . 23/2/2008 Thomas Laux
San Francisco Chronicle A 17/11/2008 Anne Julia Wyman
Sydney Morning Herald A 29/8/2007 Claire Scobie
TLS . 7/3/2008 Natasha Lehrer

  Review Consensus:

  Generally quite impressed (including by how well she pulls off the backwards-presentation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Huston's idea of taking soundings of the world at critical periods is useful. And it should be absorbing to unravel the mystery of these repellently damaged people. But the novel is unsubtle and unsatisfying. It is because Huston has such a deranged sense of childhood but it is also to do with the intellectual structures that underpin every theme." - Helen Elliott, The Age

  • "Powerful storytelling drives this innovative tale; but the passions, the wonder and misapprehensions of Hustonís children jar against their knowing adult sensibilities. This niggling mismatch gives her otherwise beautifully crafted and ambitious novel a rich emotional character, with its own internal fault line." - James Urquhart, Financial Times

  • "(A) glittering showcase of observations of a type reminiscent of so much American dysfunctional family literature since Jonathan Frantzen's The Corrections. (...) Though the children's voices are jarringly sophisticated, Huston's layering of narratives lends an increasingly integrated understanding of family history, and the structure is so seamlessly handled that we are left with neither dangling ends nor any of the usual sense of mystified frustration inherent in reverse chronology. This is an immaculate novel that, on the surface, can barely be faulted. The problem is that it's cold." - Joanna Briscoe, The Guardian

  • "Ein winziger Makel ist trotz seiner dramaturgischen Verschachtelung ein lesenswertes, spannendes Buch" - Thomas Laux, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The author who tells a story backward is taking a risk. After the reader has already pieced together its turning points and traumas, the emotional payoff may not be there at the end. Novice writers can use such gimmicks to bolster a shaky narrative, but happily thatís not the case here. The events of Hustonís novel (...) are strong enough to work just as well, if not better, when arranged chronologically, and the book rewards rereading." - Susann Cokal, The New York Times Book Review

  • "From its very first chapter, Nancy Huston's Fault Lines terrifies. (...) (N)ot every reader is interested in cultural criticism of this kind. It is, of course, only one of the many characteristics of the novel as a literary form and only one of the many strengths of Huston's new book. Engaging and innovative, Fault Lines possesses a complex, staggered structure (as its title might suggest). (...) Perhaps the only real flaw in Fault Lines is that it does not necessarily provide adequate historical context. (...) All told, Fault Lines is thrilling, a masterpiece of unconventional form (.....) Huston has given us one of the most engaging, evocative novels of the year." - Anne Julia Wyman, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "If this sounds grim-reading, be assured it's not. Nancy Huston, an Anglophone Canadian who writes in both English and French and lives in Paris, succeeds in exploring the darkest of subjects with a lightness of touch. Once I had suspended my disbelief that these are six-year-old children talking, I relished the ride, frequently without punctuation and often as a stream of words and images. (...) What is most striking is how Huston captures the complex workings of a child's mind, as they contort what their parents say, internalising and blaming themselves for events beyond their control. Seamlessly shifting from one point of view to the next, the plot thickens to a searing climax." - Claire Scobie, Sydney Morning Herald

  • "The fault lines of the title are the moments when civilization is stressed to the point of fracture; the clear-eyed six-year- old narrators evoke that stress with a disarming absence of rhetoric and complexity that puts into focus the corrupting horrors that adults visit on their world." - Natasha Lehrer, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Fault Lines is a four-part novel that moves back in time and across generations. Beginning in 2004, the book moves back to 1982, 1962, and then 1944-5, with each section narrated by a member of the same family at age six. The reverse-chronology sounds like it would hopelessly complicate the story, but despite tearing off the layers backwards Huston manages to reveal the family secrets in a sensible fashion; indeed, in some ways it is not unlike the way it happens in real life, where one only becomes aware of family history over time.
       The four child-narrators are far from blank slates, but they are very young, taking everything as given -- and, often, the adults' words very literally. Huston makes them in part completely unnaturally precocious (especially the first, Sol, who surfs the Internet for pornography and war imagery), yet at least realistically uncomprehending about certain things; hence there are observations such as: "I try to imagine what a flying fuck is but I can't."
       The four children are each marked -- or scarred -- with a congenital birthmark, passed down over the generations (though never appearing in the same spot). Each account is from a time of at least some international crisis, from the war in Iraq back through Lebanon, the Cuban missile crisis, and World War II. They each have a Jewish identity, yet not a complete one, and each is raised in an unusual family-environment, from one who is taken care of by her grandparents for a long time to one who appears to be adopted.
       All four narrators already appear in the first section, but only progressively are the backgrounds of the older ones revealed when they, in turn, tell their stories. While the outline feels almost too precisely mapped out, the novel veering dangerously close to the programmatic, Huston manages to tell the four stories so well that that's easier to overlook. The voices are unreal -- especially Sol's, though even he regresses after coming on very strong in his comfortably familiar environment -- but they certainly are compelling.
       The novel works precisely because of the puzzle Huston has made of it. There are what could be considered faults galore, from the exaggerated characters (the parents no less than the children) to the basic fault lines Huston means to illustrate, but the stories are still powerful and told well enough to consistently impress. More than that, the larger picture slowly unfolds in a way that makes it hard to look away . The childish perspectives, with their strict literalism and ignorance of certain aspects of the world, allows Huston to get away with a lot, and even if the narratives aren't strictly realistic (in the sense of being plausible) they work very well for the story she is telling.
       Odd, but a good read.

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Fault Lines: Reviews: Nancy Huston: Other books by Nancy Huston under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nancy Huston was born in 1953, and now lives in France. She writes in both French and English.

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