Garbo Laughs

Garbo Laughs

Book - 2003
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Baker & Taylor
Harriet Browning becomes enmeshed in the old movies that she was deprived of as a child and views over and over again, until she no longer fits into the real world, until the arrival of two Hollywood refugees who bring her face to face with real life.

Blackwell North Amer
Set in Ottawa in the 1990s, it is the quixotic tale of tall, thin Harriet Browning, inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child. Bent on seeing everything she has missed, she rapidly becomes so saturated with old movies, seen repeatedly and swallowed whole, that she no longer fits into the real world. Equally addicted are her three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthly sidekick named after Dinah Shore. Breaking in upon this quiet backwater, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood, the jaded widow of a famous screenwriter and her movie-expert stepson. They are Harsh Reality, who bring blackouts, arguments, accidents, illness and sudden death. But what chance does real life stand when we can watch movies instead? What hope does real love have when movie love, in all its brief intensity, is an easy option? In this brilliant and poignant comedy of secondhand desire, movies and movie lovers come first.

& Taylor

Harriet Browning becomes enmeshed in the old movies that she was deprived of as a child and views over and over again, until she no longer fits into the real world, until the arrival of two Hollywood refugees, the widow of a famous screenwriter and her movie-expert stepson, who bring her face to face with real life. By the author of A Studen of Weather. 40,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Counterpoint, [2003]
Copyright Date: ©2003
ISBN: 9781582432915
Branch Call Number: FIC Hay, E 2003
Characteristics: 294 pages ; 24 cm


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brianreynolds Jan 23, 2016

While Elizabeth Hay’s <i>Garbo Laughs</i> is deliciously written and spins an entertaining romantic-comedy with enough complexity to make it seem honest, my real reason for appreciating her skill in this book is my own ignorance of film. Although I’m of an age to have seen the ads for almost all of the many, many stars and movies referred to in the novel, I’ve actually seen almost most none of them. If you asked me my favourite actress or actor in the last 60 years, I could form a vague mental picture of someone (maybe) but would have no idea what name to attach. If a cinematic episode suddenly jumped into my brain, it’s almost certain I’d have no idea what movie it came from. I like films, but I rarely see them for all sorts of reasons that aren’t very interesting. But somehow Hay was able to interest me, paint a picture of people passionate about something I know nothing about, and make me love them for it. That’s no small feat. She’s funny; she’s insightful; she’s poignant. This is a good read.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

If you are an old movies buff, you will love Hay’s new novel of a family addicted to the film classics. Sinatra, Brando, Keaton and Garbo live again through the lives of this idiosyncratic family. Harriet Browning’s love for her husband and children beats strongly through the novel as she writes unsent letters to Pauline Kael, the well-known movie critic, that speak about her relationships with her family, neighbours, friends and difficult relatives. The vagaries of the Ottawa climate are reflected in the disharmony that settles slowly around Harriet’s family. Infidelity, illness and death; love, friendship and happiness are all laid bare in Hay’s “reel” life story.

Sep 07, 2013

Part way through, I was going to give up on this....then I got sucked back in again. While I enjoyed it, sometimes I found the author's style a little too remote, and she made leaps that she expected me to make, too, so at times I had to go back and figure out why people were where they were and what was going on - lots of jumping around in the chronology of events, so that, e.g., in one paragraph she will mention that it snowed on December 25, and in the next paragraph we're back in November. Overall, though, an enjoyable read, for sure. Full of wonderful observations (I've put some in the "quotes" section here).

Apr 13, 2013

Gee, I wish I had a neighbour as amusing as Harriet--although perhaps I might, over time, find her obsession with movies somewhat alienating--as her husband, Lew, did. Even as a reader I wished there were about one third fewer film references--and I'm a film buff. Yes, they helped reveal character, but too often they didn't add anything new and seemed rather like some children portrayed in films, allowed to wail on and on to get the point across that they're obnoxious--when maybe six seconds would suffice. Not only were film references excessive (to me) but after a while they undermined credibility--especially those from the son's and daughter's points of view. Still, there were many pleasures in this book.

Jul 22, 2012

Read 2010

Feb 07, 2010

did not enjoy as much as latest


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Sep 07, 2013

The next day they drove home, across country scoured by glaciers—pressed under ice a mile deep, and pressed repeatedly, until the ice melted for good and the land made a scarred rebound into the marvellous light. Like my childhood, she thought. It too had been a kind of ice age from which the parental glacier had finally retreated, and then what a lot of work it had been to get anything to grow on the boulder-filled, back-breaking personality that remained.


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