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Ten Thousand Saints: Enthralls With Visual Sense Of Narration

October 27, 2014 | By

While there is no denying that a better editor would have made this an improved (and shorter) book, Ten Thousand Saints, for the better part, manages to enthral readers with its visual sense of narration.

Ten Thousand Saints (English) (Paperback)Author: Eleanor Henderson.
Pages: 400.
ISBN: 9781780872179.
Format: Paperback.
Price: 350 INR.
Published by: Quercus.

Ten Thousand Saints is available on Flipkart, Amazon and Infibeam.

‘Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every impulse and desire… fierce, devoted and elegiac.’

~ New York Times Book Review.

A New York Times Book of the Year is an extremely rare thing to be coveted on a debut novel, and the magic present in this rare debut is evident from the first paragraph itself. Los Angeles Times has correctly described the book as a whirling dervish of a novel- a planet, a universe, a trip. For Eleanor Henderson has managed to create a world within Ten Thousand Saints that remains with you long after you are done reading it.

The book starts extremely strongly, on New Year’s Eve, in 1987, in Vermont, where Jude and Teddy are high and dry, in search for supply. The two young teenagers, with no dreams of their own, except stealing for money or stealing money and getting high, are out partying with their new friend Eliza from Manhattan and tragically Teddy is found dead the next morning after huffing Freon and snorting cocaine.

Both Jude and Eliza feel very guilty because Jude pressed the Freon on him and Eliza supplied the cocaine. Actually, Eliza offered Teddy more than cocaine that night and she soon discovers she is pregnant from her one time encounter with dead Ted. Eliza, Jude and Teddy’s older half-brother Johnny (who has his straight-edge band, Army of One) form a family of sorts who hope to raise Teddy’s baby. And that is when problems ensue and old doubts arise.

The author has the ability to write vividly descriptive scenes. Scenes that don’t take long to be recalled later on, in the course of the story. While there is no denying that a better editor would have made this an improved (and shorter) book, Ten Thousand Saints, for the better part, manages to enthral readers with its visual sense of narration.

That said, the base of the story could have been upped a little more, giving readers more background into each character. Especially Harriet, Jude’s mother, who seems like the only stable character in the book. The parents are similarly ill-equipped to deal with their lives, being themselves old-school stoners who like to do as little as possible to get by.

Jude seems to be the most interesting character in the book, by a long shot. While his father Les thinks he’s named after the Christian figure St. Jude, Harriet seems to have named him after The Beatles’ song. This goes on to prove how eccentric the family already was – prior to all the events that take place in the book. Even his half-sister is named after a song – Prudence. A novella based on his life might not be a bad idea for the author to go on with the story, for it has latent potential.

17-year-old Hailee having fun on the set of the film adaptation of the 2012 Eleanor Henderson novel with co-stars Emile Hirsch and Butterfield. Pic courtesy: dailymail.co.uk

A movie based on the book is already in the making- and with actors like Emile Hirsch, Ethan Hawke and Emily Mortimer, 2015 can’t seem to come fast enough! Anyway, Henderson has managed to bring in a boatload of issues and concepts into a thinly-veiled book. One fails to realize the theme that is present throughout: is it teen pregnancy, AIDS, living the straight-edge life, fetal alcohol syndrome or homosexuality? The homosexuality angle might have had the possibility of being interesting within the context of the characters involved, but the author oddly muddies the waters by suggesting multiple times that the straight edge subculture was some form of mask for latent homosexuality. It’s just that there are too many themes and the author has too less a control over all of it.

Be as it may, the novel is a long run to cover and at the end of it all, it does feel in a small way, that you did care for them. For Jude, for Eliza, for the unborn child, and maybe, just maybe, for poor Johnny.

Rating: 7.5/10.

Ten Thousand Saints is available on Flipkart, Amazon and Infibeam.

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Ushnav Shroff is a freelance writer whose work has featured in The Hindu, eFiction India, and Reading Hour, among others. He began to put pen to paper from the age of nine and since then his love of creating something out of nothing has not left him. Apart from short stories, he delves in poems and book reviews. He is currently working on his first novella.
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