Garbo Laughs | Penguin Random House Canada
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Garbo Laughs

Publisher: Emblem Editions
A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year
A Quill & Quire Top Five Canadian Fiction Book of the Year
A Maclean’s Top Ten Book of the Year

Elizabeth Hay’s runaway national bestseller is a funny, sad-eyed, deliciously entertaining novel about a woman caught in a tug of war between real life and the films of the past. Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child, Harriet Browning forms a Friday-night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy sidekick named after Dinah Shore. Into this idiosyncratic world, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood: Harriet’s Aunt Leah, the jaded widow of a screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s, and her sardonic, often overbearing stepson, Jack. They bring harsh reality and illuminate the pull of family and friendship, the sting of infidelity and revenge, the shock of illness and sudden loss. Poignant, brilliant, and delightfully droll, Garbo Laughs reveals how the dramas of everyday life are sometimes the most astonishing of all.


Kenny lay awake in the smallest room in the house. It had a narrow bed, a narrow desk, and a cupboard-closet that started partway up the wall. In the dark he could make out his desk covered in books – including his bible, the movie guide of 1996 – and his clothes hanging from a hook on the open cupboard door....
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1. Among other things, this novel gives us the story of a marriage. How does that story develop over the course of the novel? What does this particular story of a marriage say to you about the romance and challenges of marriage more generally?

2. Characters in a novel are created by the author not only as separate...

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“A novel so subtle and so wonderfully layered that it resembles a black-and-white movie of a certain era, full of elegance, aura and wit.… Brilliant.…Breathtaking.…”
Globe and Mail

“Outstanding – deft and compassionate and bittersweet.… About community, in all its guises; about family, old friends, and cherished foes.…”
–Bill Richardson

“Fully alive with people you want in your life.… Occasionally a novel comes along with a flavour so unique and beguiling that a reader thinks, ‘This one is unforgettable – I’ll have it forever.’… That’s Garbo Laughs.”
National Post

“Think Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo meets Dorothy Parker as channelled by John Irving.”
NOW (four-star review)

“Elizabeth Hay’s novel is an anatomy of all kinds of love.… Full of Hay’s off-centre wisdom and bull’s-eye psychological accuracy.…”
–Katherine Ashenburg

“Dreamy, moving, frequently hilarious novel.… Startlingly original.…”

“A sparkling demonstration of Hollywood’s hold on our fantasies – and its awkward fit with our earthbound selves.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Sophisticated and intelligent, fresh and endlessly inventive.…”
Quill & Quire (starred review)

“[Hay] has a delightful deadpan wit, the kind that sneaks up on you.”
New York Times Book Review

“Thumbs up for Garbo Laughs! Four-star novel celebrates love, film, and love of film.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Innovative in its reach and a stylistic delight, Garbo Laughs is endlessly engaging. Oscar for Best Novel.”
–Terry Griggs

“Imaginative, droll, and incisive, Hay’s profound tale of attempted escape and accepted responsibility, of found joy and dreaded sorrow, deftly explores the dangers and benefits of fantasy.”
Booklist (starred review)

“There aren’t enough adjectives to describe Garbo Laughs. The book is, quite simply, wonderful. It is inventive, intelligent, polished and enchanting. And you won’t be able to put it down.… Garbo Laughs is both beautifully imagined and sophisticated, a multi-faceted chronicle that holds the reader in a state of pure admiration. Hay is engaging and incisive.… Bittersweet, richly entertaining and deeply moving.…”
London Free Press

“A beautiful story of love and loss. With wit and sympathy, Elizabeth Hay superimposes the world of film perfectly on the life of Harriet Browning. A novel that should be read and re-read.”
–Jury citation, Governor General’s Award

“A gracefully written novel, mapping out the patterns of tensions and release in a family whose members are best able to express their love and disappointment through the films of the past.”
Publishers Weekly

Garbo Laughs, written in Hay’s by now distinctively understated voice, gives us her literary talent in full, extravagant bloom… [it] finds a pitch-perfect balance between comedy and sadness.”
Vue Weekly (Edmonton)

“Thoughtful, smart, sardonically funny.…”
Toronto Star

“You don’t have to be a film buff to appreciate this finely crafted, poignant and emotionally resonant novel.…Absolutely delightful.…”
–Kitchener-Waterloo Record

“With meticulous language and subtle comedy, Elizabeth Hay creates a humane portrait of people whose passionate nostalgia for the fictions of the silver screen both cushion and illumine their lives.”
–Joan Barfoot

“Hay’s forte is creating character and then establishing fierce but understated bonds between them.…This could easily become a Canadian classic.”
–Catherine Gildiner

Garbo Laughs is a summer house of a novel, one through which we move with languid ease and pleasure, never wanting the season to end.”
Raleigh News & Observer