Thursday, July 7, 2011

Centuries of June by Keith Donohue

Title: Centuries of June: A Novel
Author: Keith Donohue

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Historical / Surreal)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (5/31/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked to irritation to contentment and everything in between!
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: One night a man is revisited by the women from his eight past lives.
Reading Challenges: None.

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it's very striking and is inspired by a line directly from the story.

I'm reminded of...: Aimee Bender, Michael Cunningham, Milan Kundera

First line: We all fall down.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow -- the stories-in-the-story are just marvelous and absolutely worth reading; I'm just not sure I'd reread this.

Why did I get this book?: The cover totally grabbed me -- it's so striking!  Then the unique premise.

Review:  This unique novel mixes surreal lit fic and dreamy historical fiction to make a (mostly) compelling story about love, loss, responsibility, and moving on.  The reader and the unnamed narrator are plunged immediately -- from the first paragraph -- into the same confusing mystery: what happened to him and who are all these people in his bathroom?

Strangely I feel ambivalent toward this novel even though it hits so many elements I like in a book: fascinating heroines, literary references, story-within-a-story, and interesting locales (including Pittsburgh!).  My coolness toward this book is due to the narrator and his guide-to-the-afterlife.  Both felt very artificial and joke-y to me; and while the guide can be excused, I suppose, since he's mythic and otherworldly, the narrator was very much real and yet, he felt flat, hollow, and boring.

Visited by seven women, all unlucky in love and life, the narrator is regaled with their stories, which includes a Native American who fell in love with a shapeshifting bear; a victim of the Salem witch trials; a slave saving for her freedom; a gold prospector in the mid 1800s; and a 1950s housewife eager to rid of her husband.  The women and their stories were the best part of the novel, and I just loved their interludes.  I had less patience with the sexualized treatment of the seven women: it felt a bit unnecessary especially since the women themselves rarely were the sexual instigators.  They were the recipients of male attention -- some passive, some active -- that had an edge of violence that made me frustrated.  The women were confronting the narrator but in the end, I didn't feel like they got the justice they wanted.

There's a cinematic quality to the writing which is also lovely when it works and grating when it doesn't, but I will say this novel occupied my thoughts constantly, and I rushed to finish it.  This is another summer read that has some oomph for those who want more than fluff but not something too heavy; I suspect this would also make a great book club or group read.

*** *** ***

Read an excerpt of the book or check out the author's website.  For more reviews, see the other blogs on the tour.

GIVEAWAY! I'm giving away one copy of Centuries of June! Just leave a comment with an email address to enter. Ends 7/22, US/CA readers only.


  1. I have been enticed by this book after having read a few really good reviews this month, and think it sounds excellent. The premise is odd and intriguing to me, and I would love the chance to be entered in your giveaway. Thanks for hosting it!


  2. I've really enjoyed Donohue's novels in the past and have been eagerly awaiting this one. Glac to know you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for the chance to win a copy.

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  3. Creative cover I like it! sounds good! Thanks I'd love to read this!


  4. While the premise of this one sounds intriguing, I was curious if the author could pull it off. I've been on a terrific streak of excellent books lately, and a good idea isn't enough to sway me lately. Perhaps if I could read as quickly as you do...

  5. Thank you for the review and giveaway!

    vanessanicole21 at yahoo dot com

  6. A lot to consider in this review! From your description, I might have gotten completely stuck on the narrator. But sounds like there was a lot to enjoy, as well.

  7. @Carrie: I don't know if I would describe this as 'terrific' read sadly -- good at times -- but not (for me) great. Many other folks really loved it though!

    @bookspersonally: Yes, exactly -- I'm v much of two minds on this book, and still chewing over the characters. Still, I thought the guys got off too easy (and were too thin) but the women and their stories were fabu.

  8. My desire to read this one has gone back and forth. Some people love it and make me want to read it while others are indifferent. Hmmm still not sure its a priority but it is on my list.

    teresasreadingcorner at gmail dot com

  9. Nice review even if I do not think it is for me. The premise sounds good but the rest...perhaps not

  10. I've read another one of Donohue's novels, which I found average. I'm interested in this one though. Sounds good!

  11. I agree that the cover really grabbed my attention. I would like to be entered to win a copy :)

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  12. it is a striking cover...i'm interested.

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  13. While some of these elements sound promising, I'm not sure they would all work for me....together. I do like the cover; it is very striking.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway. Thanks for the honest review.

  14. Thanks for the giveaway :D


  15. Sounds like a bit of of a mixed bag, but I just love literary references in books and the Salem Witch trials so I would likely love to read.

  16. You found enough good in this one, that I'd be willing to give it a try.

  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

  18. OOps, left the wrong email address in the previous post. Try again...

    Would love a chance to read this book!

  19. Interesting that you both liked this AND found that it drove you crazy. :)

    Thanks for the great review and for being a part of the tour. It sounds like I ought to give this one a chance.

  20. My curiosity is piqued--please enter me!

    Shana S

  21. It sounds like it should be something I'd like in theory. Sounds like it would be worth reading though, especially at a beachy time of year. Please enter me in the drawing. colreads at gmail dot com

  22. Your interview really piques my interest in this book. It sounds like a unique, rather odd story. I'm sorry the narrator didn't work for you, that really colors the book then and I'm curious to see how I find the narrator. I think it's difficult to take a mythic, otherworldly narrator and make him relatable and interesting. But I like books that bring something different to the table!

    Please enter me in your giveaway. Thank you for a terrific, honest & interesting review :o)

  23. I loved your review. This one sounds right up my alley, I am going to have to try it.

    I would love to be entered in your giveaway, but I will probably read it on my own anyway.


  24. Thanks so much for the chance win this book. I love your blog and TLC Book Tours!

    Jill at

  25. Thank you so much for the giveaway!


  26. Sounds like a good book! Thanks for the chance.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  27. It sounds interesting, please count me in.
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com