July 31, 2017

All is Beauty Now - Sarah Faber

McClelland & Stewart, August 29, 2017.

Four Stars

In this debut novel by Canadian author Sarah Faber, the setting is the lush and vibrant landscape of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. From the glamorous wealth of the Copacabana Club to the squalor of the neighbouring fishing villages, the contradictions of Brazil come brilliantly to life. The novel follows the privileged Maurer family as they prepare to leave sunny Rio for the cooler climate of Canada. However, as the date of departure approaches, one family member suddenly disappears without explanation.

Hugo and Dora Maurer have three daughters, but it is their oldest, Luiza, who is known for her ethereal beauty. One day, while at the beach with her younger sisters, Luiza goes out for a swim and never returns. Luiza is presumed drowned and, although no body is ever discovered, a funeral is held for the young woman. The Maurers stay in Rio for another year after her disappearance, but finally begin once again to prepare to leave Brazil.

Luiza’s father Hugo is a brilliant and charismatic man who is also bipolar – he suffers from thrilling highs and dark lows. Luiza has always been expected to care for her father, and yet she doesn’t resent him – instead, she idolizes his creativity and intelligence, and resents her mother for trying to keep him medicated. As a Canadian citizen, Hugo will receive free health care in Canada, which is why Dora is pushing to return there. However, Hugo and the girls wish to stay in Rio, where Hugo’s extreme moods are accepted and even encouraged in some ways.

Dora has always been loyal to her mercurial husband, although she once had an affair that still haunts her – and her family – in unexpected ways. The younger sisters, Evie and Magda, don’t always understand what is going on around them, yet they are still affected by the dark moods and ominous feelings that surround them. In the shadow of the loss of Luiza, the entire family struggles to move forward and make peace with the past. However, when Dora learns that there may be a way to find out more about her daughter’s final days, she embarks on her own journey and leaves the remaining family behind.

The flashbacks to Luiza’s last months are told in alternating points of view, allowing each family member to express themselves – and all the characters, including the children, are captured extremely well. All is Beauty Now explores the ugly reality of mental illness, and the price we pay for loving a person who struggles with it. This is a dark, intense story filled with lush, beautiful language, and I look forward to whatever Faber writes next.

I received this book from McClelland & Stewart and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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