EXCESSIVE JOY INJURES THE HEART

Elisabeth Harvor, Author . Harcourt $25 (336p) ISBN 978-0-15-100894-0

Canadian short story writer Harvor (Let Me Be the One) casts a cool, observant eye on an aberrant facet of romantic obsession in her debut novel. Claire Vornoff is in her late 30s, ambiguously single (separated permanently from her husband). She works as a nurse/receptionist for an Ottawa general practitioner, while taking literature classes at a university. Lonely, unmoored and plagued by chronic insomnia, she consults an acupuncturist and holistic healer, Declan Farrell, to whom she confesses that she's "just a little bit obsessive." As Declan's piercing, intrusive questions penetrate Claire's protective layers of emotional numbness, she develops an obsessive need to be with him. Declan is a Lawrentian figure, alternately sympathetic and brutal, honest and condescending, who betrays flashes of violence beneath his arrogant assurance. In some respects, he frees Claire from her limitations; she learns to drive a car so that she can drive to Declan's compound outside Ottawa, where Declan lives with his wife and children. Trying to break free of her feelings for him, Claire has a sexual encounter with a man she meets at a party. Afterwards, when she asks Declan to determine whether she is pregnant, she feels an even greater level of intimacy with him. Even after she has seen the corruption in Declan's New Age-y soul, Claire feels drawn to him, and only after a terrifying, physically abusive session does she gain the strength to terminate their relationship. In lucidly charting Claire's emotional and erotic attachment, Harvor is reminiscent of a classic novelist of another generation, Christina Stead and, like Stead, Harvor has a masterly grasp of the psychological states of women on the margins of society. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 344 pages - 978-0-7710-3963-8
Open Ebook - 177 pages - 978-1-55199-701-8
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