Book Review: The Book of Dahlia

The Book of Dahlia: A Novel The Book of Dahlia: A Novel by Elisa Albert

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s funny to me that most of the reviews I’ve read of this novel, the central point of the story, arguably the reason we meet Dahlia – her cancer diagnosis, for the love of god – is glossed over. Dahlia is annoying. Dahlia is a slacker. Dahlia is a miserable fuck who can’t pry her privileged ass off the couch, and I’m glad I don’t know her in real life. Sure, all of these things might be true. However, it is these qualities which allow the real brilliance of the story to shine through. The way the author allows the main character to manage this experience which slams her out of what little control she felt as if she might have had like a car speeding over an unforeseen patch of ice. The reader is almost dared to grant Dahlia the modicum of concern that her humanity might deserve by rubbing the reader’s face in her unlovable qualities.

Dahlia’s reaction to her situation is real. It is raw, bitter, and thusly completely in character. The myriad of issues that a person in the same situation would be dealing with from the simple alteration in day-to-day routine (even if that involves only sitting in front of the television and eating Cheerios) to facing death at a young age are vast and at the very least, difficult to handle. Using the vehicle of this character, the author creates a space where the reader doesn’t question the brazenness of Dahlia’s thoughts, her questions and actions. For instance, her rejection of the cult of positive thinking that so many cancer patients are encouraged to participate in. Because of the way Dahlia’s character is constructed the reader almost expects it which grants the reader a chance to consider what kind of feelings might prompt her thought process as opposed to the reader simply reacting to “unacceptable” thoughts and behavior from Dahlia.

This ultimately leads to the truth of the human condition – that with all of her apparent malice, her seemingly half-assed life, she is still not ready to give it up. This book is an artful treatment of an unlovable character in an impossible and unforgiving situation.

View all my reviews.

1 comment
  1. letgomymemory said:

    It is interesting because whenever someone talks to me about this book, they always mention cancer.

    I kinda forgot Dahlia had cancer by chapter 3. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I and so many ladies I know behave in such in a similar manner (without cancer) that it just didn’t seem to be a pivotal trait of the character.

    I wonder what this means. Do we all assume we can die at any moment? Or, is cancer so “manageable” now that we don’t distinguish it as a differienating quality?

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