Monday, October 14

Book Review: The Son of a Certain Woman

Title: The Son of a Certain Woman

Author: Wayne Johnston

Pages: 435

Summary: Percy Joyce, born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the fifties is an outsider from childhood, set apart by a congenital disfigurement. Taunted and bullied, he is also isolated by his intelligence and wit, and his unique circumstances: an unbaptized boy raised by a single mother in a fiercely Catholic society. Soon on the cusp of teenagehood, Percy is filled with yearning, wild with hormones, and longing for what he can’t have—wanting to be let in...and let out. At the top of his wish list is his disturbingly alluring mother, Penelope, whose sex appeal fairly leaps off the page. Everyone in St. John’s lusts after her—including her sister-in-law, Medina; their paying boarder, the local chemistry teacher, Pops MacDougal; and...Percy.

Percy, Penelope, and Pops live in the Mount, home of the city’s Catholic schools and most of its clerics, none of whom are overly fond of the scandalous Joyces despite the seemingly benign protection of the Archbishop of Newfoundland himself, whose chief goal is to bring “little Percy Joyce” into the bosom of the Church by whatever means necessary. In pursuit of that goal, Brother McHugh, head of Percy’s school, sets out to uncover the truth behind what he senses to be the complicated relationships of the Joyce household. And indeed there are dark secrets to be kept hidden: Pops is in love with Penelope, but Penelope and Medina are also in love—an illegal relationship: if caught, they will be sent to the Mental, and Percy, already an outcast of society, will be left without a family.

My Rating: 3/10

What I liked/disliked about the book: I didn't like this book at all. There were small glimmers of hope throughout the book, but for the most part I was very frustrated with the book and I struggled to get throughout it most of the time.

The only quality I liked about the book was the recurring theme of loneliness and hiding ones true self. It was brought up a few times in the book, where the reader finally got a good look at what the characters were feeling, a good emotional connection in that aspect, which I thought was handled wonderfully.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book was either morbid, with Percy morbid obsession with his mother, or over the top religious extremism which just wanted me to chuck the book across the room. I understand during the time period and community was a very religious one and it was a very important part of the heart of the book, but I felt like I was being beat over the head with it. By the end of the book, the religious themes were becoming way to repetitive and distracting for me as the reader.

I didn't connect to any of the characters, although I think for some, like Medina, it was more due to the over the top presence of the religious fanatics, that drowned out her character. I didn't have much sympathy for Percy, he had a hard life, but he was a morbid creepy person with his obsession with his mother, and his mother was no better. I guess you could say the author did do a good job at creating his characters the way he did, but I didn't like any of them.

Overall, this wasn't the book for me.

Would I recommend it to read: I wouldn't. This was a book that didn't work out for me and I had far to many issues with it. Perhaps the author, not the book.

What to read next: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, The Other Giller Longlisted books

Challenges: 7th Annual Canadian Book Challenge, Alphabet Challenge

This is part of an ongoing project I'm doing on the blog to read all of the 2013 Giller Longlisted books.
Click here for further details


  1. Ouch! Actually, I understand. I felt similarly about his The Story of Bobby O'Malley. However, I'd list Colony of Unrequited Dreams among my favourites. So, I'm not sure where I stand on his writing.

    1. I enjoyed Colony of Unrequited Dreams a lot as well. The writing was very well done in the book, and the story was also well done - so reading this in comparison to that also threw me off. I'm glad this was my second book by the author, as I don't think it's a good example of what the author s capable of.

  2. Ugh. Not a promising review. I still do not know where I stand on reading it. The story intrigues me, though one of my fears was that it would be utterly depressing. You haven't done much to convince me otherwise.

    1. I'm not sure if I'd classify it as depressing. It was odd, but not depressing. I do think the book is for some people, and if the story intrigues you, you may enjoy it.

  3. There's an article on Hazlitt's site which explains his approach; it definitely added a layer to my appreciation of the novel. I wish I'd read it before-hand!

    1. Interesting. I'm on the fence on whether the article is worth reading - I might just let this book go, But knowing what the author was thinking for his approach might help understand the book more. It just didn't click with me.