There are books in my library that I have reread several times since their first publication. Among them are Timothy Findleys’s Famous Last Words and Pilgrim, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Alistair Macleod’s And Birds Call Forth The Sun and The Lost Salt Gift of Blood and Carol Shields’ Unless. But until Michelle Butler Hallett’s Constant Nobody, I have never reread the same book within a month. It was even better the second time around.
Constant Nobody transports the reader to Moscow, Russia, in 1937. It is an immersive sensory experience. There were moments when it felt like I was in the front row of an intimate theatrical performance. I’d catch a whiff of perfume, feel my heart race as characters were awakened by knocks on doors, shiver when the shower water in a Moscow apartment switched from lukewarm to ice-cold, or breathe a sigh of relief after an injection of morphine dulled intractable pain.
Constant Nobody is a love story caught up in the espionage intrigue of Moscow, 1937. And as I write that sentence, I fear it trivializes Constant Nobody to historical romantic fiction which it most certainly is not. However, it is historical fiction that deftly depicts another time and place by attention to detail. And Constant Nobody is a love story that captures the depth of feeling between men, physician and patient, a man and a woman. But Constant Nobody is also an exploration of humanity. Throughout this novel, there’s an underlying question: How does one navigate a life that seems destined by chance? The answer might be “by free will and twice as much by compulsion.”
Constant Nobody, like Butler Hallett’s earlier novel This Marlowe left me in respectful awe of this formidable Canadian author.
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Many thanks, Bonnie ! I have been looking for a great book choice for our book club. This book sounds like it could be the one ! Bj
It’s an astonishing read!
I have never heard of anyone reading a book twice in the same month until your review. It is now on my must read list and I love that you feature a Canadian author – thank you Bonnie.
It is a remarkable tale, Cathy!
[…] Novelist Bonnie Lendrum calls Constant Nobody “an immersive sensory experience,” “a love story caught up in the espionage in trudge of Moscow 1937,” and “an exploration of humanity.” […]
Thank you for this review Bonnie. Your compelling description is putting this book on my ‘must read’ list. And it’s a short list – I’m picky discerning.
I have never been much interested in tales of espionage, but the biography ‘Agent Sonya’, which I’ve recently read, has given me new insight into the mind of a spy. As with many non-fiction books I have enjoyed, the story lives up to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. I would never believe this story if it were a novel.
Hope you are all well. We are.
Good to hear from you, Andrea! I do a blog post only on books that I think are remarkable. This Marlowe is as fine, as Constant Nobody as it is different. You might be interested in the playlist that Michelle did for Constant Nobody, Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLx6LCHErOQUiSJTcEN2gKItswCgmdCwaT
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