Book Discussion: The Hour I First Believed

I forced my eyelids to stay open last night about 15 pages more than they really wanted to, so that I could finish my book:

723 pages later!...

It took me about two months to read this novel – not bad considering I only read before bed, and average likely 10-20 pages per night.

I’d like this post to be more of a book discussion in tone, than a book review. For that reason, I’ll give you a potential spoiler alert. Now, I’m not going to give away the ending or anything, but I am going to discuss plot developments, themes, characters, and personal likes and dislikes. So, if you have intentions of reading the book (and you should!), maybe skip this post?? (haha, what kind of blogger asks readers to NOT read!?!). If the book doesn’t interest you OR if you have already read it, please join me!…

Full disclosure: I’m a huge Wally Lamb fan. Back in this post, I listed “I Know This Much Is True” as one of the Top Five reads of my entire life. “She’s Come Undone,” which I read immediately after finishing I Know This Much Is True, also completely captivated me. Wally Lamb’s novels stay in my mind long after I finish reading – John Irving is another writer whose works affects me in this way.

Right from page one, The Hour I First Believed captivated me. Caelum Quirk is our protagonist, and the novel is written in first-person narrative (my favourite type). We quickly get a sense of the type of personality he is, thanks to Mr Lamb’s insertion of background details, and from Caelum’s present-time inner discourse. I can’t say I loved, admired or respected Caelum throughout the novel: true to his sirname, he does have quirks and shortcomings, weaknesses and downfalls. This is unusual in a novel; many times an author wants his readers to feel a kinship, and almost a celebrity-like devotion to the primary characters. I didn’t mind that I didn’t adore Caelum, though – it just made the story all the more life-like.

We begin our story in Colorado, and the Columbine shootings figure prominently in the plot development…for the first part of the book. Prior to beginning my reading, I was expecting that the entire novel would revolve around this major real-life tragedy; however, this event serves onlt as the impetus for what unfolds in the rest of the novel.

Caelum’s wife, Maureen, would be our second major character. Maureen, hidden in a cupboard, survives the rampage at the school on that tragic day but is forever colored by the effects of her trauma. The entire plot of the book spools off of this life-changing event.

Mr Lamb is a master of weaving together multiple plot lines, and at integrating new characters, weaving them into the storyline. This novel is a complexly layered tapestry of events, generations, characters. At various points, Caelum disappears from the narative, and other characters take over as the primary plot-advancers. This writing structure enhances the intrigue of the novel.

As you can tell (!), I feel like I could write a full university dissertation on the major themes and characters’ psychological profilings. Maybe some day when I have a creative blogging mental block I’ll return to one theme or character and discuss it more thoroughly. For now, let’s close with a few highlights and shortcomings:

~ the plot development is absolutely brilliant.

~ I appreciated the twinning of Caelum’s college course on Greek mythology that he teaches, as a mirror to his own epic tale of self-discovery.

~ I loved how characters like Velvet and Alphonse appear, disappear, reappear throughout the course of the story.

~ the portrayal of Maureen’s post-traumatic stress disorder seemed completely real, to me.

~ I did not so much enjoy the inclusion of Lizzy Popper…these chapters did not hold my attention as much as the real-time portions of the novel. All of the storylines involving Caelum’s ancestors did not captivate me as much as the rest of the novel.

~ **The ending is weak. Period. I strongly feel that Mr Lamb took the easy way out, wrapping up the story in a too convenient fashion. While Caelum’s life is not at all “…and he lived happily ever after,” the story does end too *nicely.* Given the twists and turns that we have already experienced with Caelum, the ending is just too neat. Very disappointing.

If you have read the novel, I especially would love to hear your thoughts on the book’s concluding pages.

It’s been more than 10 years since Mr Lamb last published a novel. It’s obvious that our author poured heart and soul into composing this oeuvre. It’s a masterpiece in terms of literature. I do hope that this is not the final piece in Mr Lamb’s fiction-writing career. He is a true artist with the written word.

*#*#*#*#*

What’s next on my reading list???! Well, let’s see what’s on my bedside table…I have two choices from books gifted to me at Christmas:

More highly anticipated fiction…

...which also is very weighty!

OR…

Humourous non-fiction:

have heard good things about ms handler's biographies!

I do believe I’ll dive right in to Freedom. Chelsea will travel better on the plane to Aruba! So my goal will be to complete Freedom by the beginning of March – “good luck with that!”

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Comments

  • Andrea  On January 30, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Oooh, you’ve inspired me to re-read the last few pages. Like Erv, it’s been a year since I’ve read “The Hour” so it’s a little fuzzy; however, your comments re: Lizzy Popper and C’s ancestors echo my feelings exactly.

    I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on “Freedom”. I SO want to read this and am only holding off because I know it’ll be one more heavy thing to pack — I’m counting on there being a good bookstore in the Sunshine Coast!

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

      i’m on page 25 or so of freedom and LOVING IT!!! the novel grabs you right from the first couple pages. i think you read “the corrections,” right? i’m thinking this is going to be just as good! you can borrow my hardcover when you get back (haha, i’ll bring it to next christmas??!) if you don’t find a paperback version down under!

      i can’t believe you leave so soon!!!

  • Holly  On January 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I’m sorry to say I skimmed your post today, only because I didn’t want to read any spoilers! I haven’t heard of that book but I will look it up shortly.

    I’ve heard Chelsea’s books are pretty funny although I’ve never read them. And I’ve heard (can’t remember from who though) that Freedom is really good, so I hope you like that one.

    Right now I’m reading cookbooks and “Intuitive Eating” — I need some fiction in my life!

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      that’s ok to skim! even my mom didn’t read this post as she is looking forward to reading the book! 🙂
      i got about 10 pages into Freedom last night…and LOVE. IT. already. going to be another character-centred novel – my favourite!

  • Dad  On January 27, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I really liked The Hour and the various “quirky” characters. The whole story is so believable and the main characters struggle so hard to feel good about their lives.
    My only complaint was that the ending was SO poor….it did not do justice to the rest of the book. However, I read it over a year ago so my memory about it is fading a bit.
    Dad

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

      Thanks so much for your comment, dad! 🙂 and for lending me your copy of the novel.
      I very much agree that the characters are a real strength of this novel-so life-like and believable. Janis, Moze…even minor characters like Maureen’s father and his wife…relationships that you do see in real life.

  • Kristina @ Life as Kristina  On January 27, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Love chelsea handler book!!!!!
    I used to be a night time reader too, now i’m a TV watcher (bad habit I know)….I usually catch up on books in the sauna (for an hour) or when i travel!

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 27, 2011 at 8:37 am

      sauna reading!! now THAT is a great idea…not to mention effective multi-tasking! i do read more if i’m on a beach in terms of travel…maybe you’ll get some beach-reading in on your honeymoon?!! i’ve heard chelsea is laugh-out-loud funny, so i am really looking forward to it!

  • Lisa @Thrive Style  On January 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I haven’t read The Hour…so I only glanced through what you wrote about it in case I do ever get to it! I do envy the idea of reading for pleasure, and I wish I could put some pleasure-ful books on my list (rather than text books). But I have no complaints right now, because the textbook reading is helping me earn paychecks 🙂

    I will say that the last book I read for fun, Water for Elephants, was extraordinary.

    • 1970kikiproject  On January 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      textbook reading is not so bad when you’re doing self-directed learning or are really intrigued by the subject…i like that kind of reading, too! sadly, i did not like water for elephants – it was well-written, but just not my style, i didn’t really like the story that much…to each their own, right?!

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