[Today's book review is a Special cross-posting today with my other blog, Briques du Neige, about life in Montreal, so go check it out if you want to hear me rant and rave about today's hipsters.]
I have a nice windfall of Ross Thomas books awaiting me on my on-deck shelf, but I didn't quite have the desire yet. I think I had read a few too many books of that genre and needed to take a little break. Happily, my wife had put out A Fine Ending on the outgoing pile which reminded me that since she had read and reviewed it and since I had accidently met the author himself, I also wanted to read it.
A Fine Ending is semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical. Rastelli was in the anglo-hipster Montreal scene of the 90s, back when it was a little more real and a little less self-conscious (and a lot poorer). His book is basically a chronicle of his life during that period: the places he lived, the people he knew and the things he did. There is a lot of musical shows and practices, finding of cool old stuff, moving and in and out of apartments, partying and caring (or failing to) of cats. This last subject is probably the only one where the book has any emotional resonance. The rest of it is strangely matter-of-fact and surface level. Louis seems to be strangely disconnected from it all in some ways. It's not just the writing style but his constant "friend-zone" relationship with women. He clearly is really connected and close with those people and a sensitive, aware guy. But somehow, you never really get to hear his own thoughts. He is so Canadian and passive that he seems to even have subsumed his entire personality for fear of being too aggressive. I wonder if part of it is that he knows a lot of the people still and can't really be totally open.
Today, Louis is a bit of an elder statesmen on the scene, maintaining cultural traditions and events for the new generation of wealthy, self-conscious hipsters. I can't say that A Fine Ending is a well-written book. There is some good stuff in it, some touching moments, but it's more like a tightly-edited and revised diary. It makes for some parts where you wonder why his is telling us exactly what he put in his backpack before going to watch fireworks on the mountain. However, it's not unpleasant to read at all and it has a good heart. If you live in Montreal and are curious about those storied days that influence the way we think about Montreal, you may well enjoy the book. Finally, it really is a pretty solid historical document, capturing a phenomenon that happens in cities all over North America and possibly the rest of the world, that fantastic period when a city truly becomes culturally alive on its own, without the influence of the governments or big corporations or self-aware hipsters for whom style trumps actual politics.
I'd also known that the book is beautifully designed. The full-bleed colour cover and the black & while illustrations inside perfectly capture the feel of the world Rastelli is describing.