Review of “The Imposter Bride” by Nancy Richler

This book has a promising beginning. It is 1946, and Lily Azerov has come to Montreal to meet Sol Kramer for an arranged marriage; they have never met. Upon seeing her get off the train, Sol has a change of heart, but his brother Nathan likes what he sees, and steps up to takes Sol’s place.

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Lily doesn’t adjust well, in spite of Nathan’s and even Sol’s infatuation with her. (Sol regretted his actions almost immediately.) Lily is like someone haunted, and spends most of her time alone and closed away in her room.

When the daughter that Lily has with Nathan is just three months old, Lily disappears, leaving a note to say she is sorry. No one hears from her again until the daughter, Ruth, turns six. At this point, in April of 1953, Ruth picks up the main narration of the book, beginning when she receives a strange birthday package that the rest of the family agrees is from her mother.

The story then proceeds with alternate narrators. Most of the time we follow Ruth as she grows up, trying to deal with the emptiness of having a loving extended family, yet knowing her own mother walked away from her. Over the years she gets a few more packages from her mother (albeit unsigned); they always contain rocks and a notation about their provenance. But no one really knows what happened to Lily, any more than why she left.

Lily even takes a turn as one of the narrators, although we still don’t learn much from her except that the experience of the Second World War caused her a great deal of pain and guilt. Without knowing the details, her story just didn’t elicit any sympathy or compassion in me for her.

As the years pass, Ruth finally gets closer to the truth and finally has the opportunity to find out everything, but declines to pursue all the answers. (And why she doesn’t is a bit of a mystery, since she spent her whole life wondering these things.) We are given a lot to think about instead however, such as what the nature of love is, and about the ways in which love and the forms it takes help define the nature of the self. This latter point is the most crucial to this story: the kind of love that means the most to you and the role it plays it your life can show more about who you are and what you need that anything else you say or do.

Discussion: Apparently the opening premise is similar to what happened to the author’s grandmother, who came to Canada from Eastern Europe expecting to marry a man who rejected her upon her arrival.

It serves well as a story arc, but would work much better if we ever got even the slightest idea of who some of the characters are as people. There aren’t many characters, and so it is particularly unsatisfactory that we come to know so little about them. Who are Sol and Nathan and why do they react the way they do? What about Sol’s future wife, on whom it fell to raise Ruth? The author doesn’t tell us much at all. We get a little more information about the mother of Sol and Nathan and about Sol’s future mother-in-law. As for Ruth’s birth mother, we end up knowing hardly more about her at the end of the book as we did in the beginning. It left me feeling disappointed, as if I had wanted stew and had to settle for broth.

Evaluation: There are some big gaps in the major plotline, oddly combined with the inclusion of some rather elaborate minor plotlines that are dead-ends, i.e., neither really going anywhere nor contributing much to the story. Nevertheless, it is a compelling read, and it was shortlisted for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Canada’s most distinguished literary prize for the best Canadian novel or short story collection published in English.

Rating: 3/5

Published in the U.S. by St. Martin’s Press, 2013

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17 Responses

  1. The premise sounds interesting enough, but mysteries need to be detailed and not have gaps. The part about Ruth not pursuing all the answers isn’t really realistic unless she suddenly changed her mind about searching, and even if you did surely you’d do it anyway if you’d spent your life on it. Sorry it wasn’t better :(

  2. I think I would feel unsatisfied if I didn’t get more of a peek inside the minds of these people. Everybody has a story! I’m sure these two men had baggage and expectations, as well as Lily and even her daughter. I’m a little surprised that the book was still nominated for an award…

  3. Can you imagine going all that way to marry someone you’d never met and have him reject you without even getting to know you? Sounds like a great premise – too bad it wasn’t executed that well.

  4. How strange that the main questions about the story are never answered – like why did Lily leave, where did she go, why did she send those packages and why send those particular items, etc.? This doesn’t appeal to me at all.

  5. I would need to know more about why this bride goes missing, or about Sol and his family to be truly satisfied with this book, and so I can see why you weren’t. It sounds like there just wasn’t enough plot or character glue to hold this one together.

  6. The lack of character development turns me off. I really like my characters.

  7. Seems like little gets resolved in this book. Skipping it.

  8. Too bad – sounds like it could have been a really good read :-(

  9. Like the premise of this one. It’s too bad about the lack of character development. I wonder what the other shortlisted titles for the 2012 Giller prize are like!

  10. Hummm I like the premise too but I might need more character development.

  11. Kind of makes me think of a mystery where the detective decides not to bother to solve the case after all. I’d probably throw the book across the room!

  12. This novel sounds intriguing despite its flaws. However, i think my frustration over the unsolved mystery might spoil the novel for me. Great review, Jill!

  13. I prefer character development over plot so this would be a stinker for me, for sure.

  14. I was interested for a while but if you never really understood the characters than it’s not for me. I had that problem with my last book!

  15. I need to understand (if not necessarily like) the characters to full appreciate the book.

  16. Her mother sends her rocks? That’s kinda cold.

  17. Not sure if this is one that I would read or not but I do enjoy Canadian authors!!

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