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From best-selling author Ann Hood comes a sophisticated and suspenseful novel about the poignant lives of two women living in different eras.
On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, a young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless but secure marriage or to follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover, who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between these two women will change Claire’s life in unexpected and extraordinary ways.
Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.
Would you consider the audio edition of The Obituary Writer to be better than the print version?
It might be, but I have not seen the written version.
If you could take any character from The Obituary Writer out to dinner, who would it be and why?
Vivian, because she had a deep understanding of what it takes to help a person process grief, although she had her own deep sense of loss through much of the book. The important thing was that in her role of writing obituaries, she knew that simple facts, such as birth and death dates, do not say anything about who the person *was* in their lives. She understood the power of healing narrative.
Any additional comments?
This book is an unusual exploration of human yearnings and grief told through parallel stories of two women struggling to find love, and make sense of losses through challenging circumstances. For one woman, Vivian, her lover has been lost in the great San Francisco earthquake, and she cannot give up hope of finding him. Claire, a woman living in the early 60's is agonizing over being with her husband or a man she has had an affair with (whose baby she is probably carrying). Initially it seems their lives have no connection, but the mystery unfolds through the book, which reveals how even the distance of half a century may be closed in unusual ways.<br/><br/>The most powerful parts of this book are the moving passages in which grief is explored. Through telling the stories of people who have died (as preparation for the obituaries she will be writing) Vivian helps those who are grieving bring the dead back to life in and through memory, which is a very healing process. <br/><br/>The attention to details in description also brings the entire book to life for the reader. Just as Vivian asks mourners for the smallest details of the lives of their loved departed, the author gives us small details of description that makes this book rich in a way that draws the reader deeply into it. Although the themes of death and loss permeate this book, it is a very compelling listen.<br/><br/>It is also very interesting to step back in time to two different eras, and realize what women's lives were like then. Each woman is facing and understanding her own struggle through the social ideas and pressures of her own time.
27 of 27 people found this review helpful
This book turned out to be one of my favorite audio books. The honesty with which it is written is so very valuable. Though it is fictional, the beautifully flawed lives of the women, Vivian and Clare, are portrayed in a way that is not judgmental. It does not detract from who these women are, doesn't make them more or less, just describes them. I love that the story begins in the early 1900s in San Francisco, in a beautiful place, where a young Vivian, full of optimism, trusts and makes choices that her best friend disagrees with. Then Clare, in the 1960s, when John F. Kennedy is running for President, is inspired by new ideas and has "fallen out of love" with her husband. Each story is fully told, running parallel, when of course, they are in two different time periods. But I did not find this distracting in the least. Each woman learning, growing, discovering for herself about friendship, marriage, dreams and reality . . . and gaining a wisdom that only life can teach.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
Ann Hood has crafted a rather beautiful, albeit short, tale of two women living in two time periods who both struggle with coping with loss (not only through death, but the loss of dreams and hopes) and how to move forward with their lives. The listener realizes almost immediately that these two stories must intersect at some point and you may figure out how well before the author reveals the connection between the two, but that will not detract from the tale. One of the stories is set primarily in 1919 and the other in 1961 and Hood does a nice job of bringing the listener into both time periods so that the setting is clearly playing a role in the story at all times. The characters are delicately drawn and distinct in this book - strangely, I found Vivien (the turn of the century character) much more independent and easier to identify with than the more contemporary Claire of the 60's but both women "rang true" as people. The stories are moving and interesting but this is not a really deep study of grief and it is not really long enough to make the listener sad, but certainly elicits some melancholy. My only real criticism of the book is the ending. After twining the two women's stories together throughout the book, the ending comes on very quickly and does not quite satisfy. Claire's story definitely seemed to end in the wrong place. A major aspect of Claire's grief would undoubtedly be some major guilt because her own very bad decisions lead to the worst of her loss, but the story "wraps up" so fast after the tragic event that there is no real exploration of that.
The book is too short to provide great new insights into grief, but it is a nice study of two women in different eras dealing with loss and the effect of the societies they live in on their coping mechanisms and their ability to move on.
Tavia Gilbert provides very competent narration. Her male voices are not great, but this book is quite "female-centric" so that is a minor flaw.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
I loved Vivien, the 1919 title character of "The Obituary Writer". Her story is haunting and leaps off the page. She's a survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake with unresolved issues of loss and uncertainty - and she fills some of her own need and anguish in dealing brilliantly with the grief and mourning of others in her obituary tributes.
The book is divided, alternating Vivien's story with that of Claire, an early-1960's suburban housewife. Claire's life and trials are, unfortunately, not as compelling. She's a very familiar example of "Feminine Mystique" discontent of the era. There's a wonderful bit about the local wives' betting pool on what Jackie Kennedy will wear to the Presidential inauguration festivities, but mostly I was just anxious to get back to 1919.
Much of the anticipation and suspense of "The Obituary Writer" is in connecting these two women somehow. Unfortunately, that process isn't entirely successful and comes across as rushed and pretty much contrived. It's not a crime for a novel to leave some unanswered questions and unresolved issues - confusion, frustration, and the feeling that something is deeply wrong do not, however, add up to a satisfying conclusion.
So, there was disappointment in this listening experience, but I will not soon forget the lessons that Vivien has to teach about grief and memory. Because of that, and because of Vivien's early story, I do give something of a qualified recommendation to this book.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
"My heart was as heavy as my luggage". Really?? That is just one example of the writing style. Sounds like something that a ninth grader would write in a Creative Writing class. These ridiculous lines were rampant throughout the book -- I tried hard to finish it, but only got 1/3 of the way through.
Narrator's speech was very clear and precise, but for some reason her voice was very annoying. She tried too hard to make EVERY sentence dramatic. It made me hate the story because her performance was over the top.
Do not waste your time on this book!
24 of 28 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Obituary Writer?
I loved the character development. It was interesting to go from one era to the other.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Vivian--she had a life with tragedy and joy.
What does Tavia Gilbert bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
I enjoyed her voice.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed this book and think it would be a great book club pick. The exploration of grief from the perspective of 100 yrs ago was quite interesting to me as death is now one of our last taboo subjects. The parallel stories of the death of a marriage in the 1960's and the death of a lover in the 1900's was an interesting contrast. This book is all about the choices we make based on the societal norms of the time, grief and how we overcome and grow from it.
24 of 29 people found this review helpful
I was pretty disappointed with the book.
It wasn’t BAD, but I feel didn’t really have a solid plot; it was just a “slice-of-life”. A section of Claire’s life with no beginning, no middle, no end.
I particularly feel that the fact that Vivien (Claire’s mother in law) was an obituary writer was just an aside. She wrote beautiful obituaries… ok fine, but it was not a crucial part of the story. She could have been a baker, or a seamstress, or a physic, whatever – it would have still been the same.
The link that ties the 1910s and 1960s story lines together in the end is not “surprising” like the synopsis implies. I don’t think “the facts / the truth” needed to be revealed at the end the way it was – had we known all along, or had we never discovered the link at all, overall it didn’t matter.
The book is touted as being: “Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope”. But aside from the way Claire was treated in the hospital after her accident, I don’t think this book delivered on those themes at all.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about this story?
I loved the ending, although I knew what was happening. A few chapters before the end, a name was introduced that brought it all together. It is a lovely story to read (listen to) when you can curl up on the sofa and bring the characters into your mind.
What aspect of Tavia Gilbert’s performance would you have changed?
I found her to be a bit whiney and she didn't differentiate the various characters very well. I found her portrayal of Claire as someone who lacked a personality.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
The story was a sad story and one that made me reminisce of times gone by
Any additional comments?
I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story about love, loss and finding your way.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What would have made The Obituary Writer better?
I might have enjoyed this book if I had read it in book form or if someone else had performed it as an audio book, but I could not get beyond the cloying voice of the reader. It was like chalk on a blackboard to me.
Would you be willing to try another book from Ann Hood? Why or why not?
If I read a really good review of another book by Ann Hood I would be willing to give it a try, but only on the basis of a great review.
Would you be willing to try another one of Tavia Gilbert’s performances?
What character would you cut from The Obituary Writer?
8 of 10 people found this review helpful