A Map of the World – Jane Hamilton

Posted 1 November, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 29 Comments


Title: A Map of the World
Author: Jane Hamilton
Date Finished: Oct 31, 2008 #63
Published: 1995 Pages: 390
Rating: 4.25/5

“When I was very young I used to sit before my map of the world imagining myself in an ideal country, alone and at peace. Now, if I could make the world over, I said … to Howard–if I could make an impossible, new world, Howard, this is who you would see: You’d see Emma, and Claire and you’d see yourself, and me, all together, dancing on the porch with the shades down, outcasts making a perfect circle” (382).

I can’t remember when I picked this book up, but it was one of the first library booksales I attended–so it’s been at least five or six years since it first graced my shelf. I’m not sure why I let it sit for so long (oh–probably because I can’t stop acquiring new books!), but I’m definitely glad to mark this one off the ole TBR list. Do you buy/get books and let them sit for years upon years??

A Map of the World is the story of the Goodwin family, Howard, Alice and their two small daughters Emma and Claire, who has recently moved to a farm in rural Wisconsin. When one of Alice’s friend’s daughters drowns in the farm pond under Alice’s care, she struggles with her guilt and fault of the little girl’s drowning. Her life slowly begins to fall apart and a few months later she is accused of sexually abusing a small boy while working as the school nurse. After Alice is arrested and sent to jail, the Goodwin family must either bond together in their unthinkably tough times or crack under the pressure of false accusations and damaged reputations.

While this sounds like a soap-opera type book, it is actually a very quiet novel. Most of these major events happen in the first quarter of the book and the rest of the book is about how the characters are dealing with their situations. In all senses, this is an absolutely character-driven novel. It does have a little bit of courtroom stuff near the end, but even then these parts of the novel focus more on the characters than what is being argued by lawyers. So, in a way this feels like a Shreve or Picoult book, but with more emotion and more development.

I really don’t have any complaints about this book other than the fact that it took me three weeks to read, which feels like a lifetime. There is very little dialogue in the book, and that made for very slow reading, especially because life has been so hectic lately. But despite the length of time it took me to read this, it was a compelling read because of the intimacy shown by taking a deep look into the lives and thoughts of the characters. The book begins with Alice’s narrative and after her arrest switches to Howard’s point of view, finally returning to Alice’s thoughts again for the remainder of the novel. I love when books present different points of view, and showing how both Alice and Howard are coming to terms with the events gives a more complete representation.

Definitely not a cliffhanger book, but if you like character-driven books, I would recommend this one. I also have Hamilton’s The Book of Ruth sitting on the shelf (also purchased years ago…maybe even at the same sale?). Have you read these two books? What were your thoughts?

29 Responses to “A Map of the World – Jane Hamilton”

  1. I read both of those books I think when I was in college. I remember really enjoying them but can’t remember the specific details. Your review makes me want to read one or both of them again!

  2. I picked this up at my first library sale too! (even though it was only a couple of months ago). When I was reading your summary, I was totally thinking it sounded like a Piccoult book! I think it will be quite a while before I read this book, but I am more interested after reading your review, even if it is a slow book!

  3. “Like Sands through the Hourglass, So are the Days of our Lives”.
    Sounds compelling. I would love to read this one. Just one more to add to the pile… I have never read any of the other books however.

  4. *Trixie – I can see how this one might be forgettable, especially as it doesn’t have a lot of plot, but I did enjoy it.

    *Laura – Like Picoult except without the plot twists and courtroom drama and lawyers and blahblahblah. I like Picoult, but I’ve been a little tired of those types of books lately. Hope you like this one when you get to it!

    *Samantha – The worst is when I go to those library sales and get a box and a bag of books. Even when I tell myself I’m not going to get much I still come home with 20+ books. Silly…

    *Bermuda – LOL…hope it is what I said about the book, not how I said it. ;)

    *Michelle – Oh yes, Days of our Lives. Except this one doesn’t have anything about people being possessed or people with heavy bags and worse accents kidnapping people or people who come back from the dead…It’s been a long time since I’ve watched Days, but I’m sure the same stuff is going on!! Haha. Maybe I’ll bring you my copy of this book next time I see you–it was good but I’m not sure if I’ll re-read it…

  5. I have The Book of Ruth sitting in my TBR room. I’ve been wanting to read that one for quite a while now. I’m not familiar with this one, but it does sound good.

  6. Oh yes! I have books sitting on my shelf for years and years before I eventually read them, but I like the idea of them sitting there waiting for me with possibility. I have this one and The Book of Ruth on my shelf. I’ve read Book of Ruth and remember liking it.

  7. I have read both of these books Trish and I remember loving both of them – I raved about them to friends so that is usually a good sign for me! Like you say – they are definitely character driven books which is my favourite kind of book.

  8. I remember reading Book of Ruth years ago and and liking it, but like someone else said, I don’t remember the details of it. I startdd reading Map of the World, and got pretty far into it and then walked away. I can’t remember if it was too slow going or if I was just too excited to read something else, but I never finished…

  9. I tend to be attracted to more action driven books, but I do love when a book can draw me into the characters and keep my attention. :) It seems as if this one did it for you. Oh, and I love the cover.

  10. *Lit Feline – If you like a more subtle book now and then, this is a good one. Maybe I’ll read Book of Ruth next year–seems like a lot of people have these books but haven’t read them yet!

    *Natasha – I thought I had seen these books when you posted pictures of your shelves! I like having a lot of books waiting for me also, but the thought of them sitting there for years makes me a little anxious.

    *Karen – Character books are my favorites as well. Is it weird that sometimes I get bored with action? :) I can barely even watch a car chase on movies anymore I get so bored. I’ll definitely have to pick up Book of Ruth soon!

    *Michelle – This one is pretty slow–so I can see how it might be easy to abandon it. I hope you can make it back to it sometime!

    *Joy – You’re the second one to say something about the cover! I prefer character books over action ones, but only as long as they can hold my attention like you said.

  11. I read this one long enough ago that I don’t remember much about it, other than I thought it was pretty depressing, and that I read most of it while sitting in the waiting room during jury duty. ;)

  12. I leave books unread for long periods of time more and more these days. I blame book blogging – you’re all terrible examples :P But isn’t it exciting to find a gem in your tbr pile after months or even years?

    I hadn’t heard of this author before, but I like quiet and character-driven books, so now I’m curious!

  13. *Fyrefly – This one was a little depressing–and yuck for jury duty!

    *Nymeth – It is exciting to find a gem, but on the other than it makes me feel bad that I “ignored” it for so long!! :) And yes, book bloggers are awful…shame on them (you!).

    *Veens – There is plot, it’s just a much quieter plot than a lot of other books like this. Glad I’m not alone on letting books sit on the shelf for years!!

  14. “Do you buy/get books and let them sit for years upon years??”…Oh my goodness, yes! I probably have unread books that have been sitting on my shelves for longer than you’ve been alive. How sad is that?!!

    This book sounds really wonderful! Thanks for the beautiful review, Trish! I’d never even heard of it before, but now it’s going to the old wish list.

  15. I’ve read them both. I remember liking Book of Ruth more. Map of the World was just a bit too slow and dull for me. It did remind me somewhat of a Picoult novel, and I don’t care for Picoult, so maybe that’s part of the reason I didn’t like it very much.

  16. *Debi – Unread books older than me!?! :) You better get on those before they turn into classics!! I think 10 years is my top right now, but that puts me back into high school, which seems weird. I’ll have to try and work them into some challenges next year!

    *Jeane – Glad to hear you liked Book of Ruth better as I’ll probably put that on the 2009 list. I can definitely see how this one could be considered dull and slow! Usually I don’t think I would have patience for it, but it worked this time.

  17. Trish, this should answer your question of do you get or buy books and let them sit for years-I have both this novel and The Book of Ruth on my shelf. You wrote such a great review and it reminds me once again of why I had gotten these books in the first place-I had really wanted to read them.

  18. I haven’t heard of this author/book before, but it sounds interesting. I think I’m more attracted to action-driven plot but character-driven plot also interests me if the premise is good. :)

  19. *Anna – I haven’t heard of that one! I’ll definitely have to check it out.

    *Dar – Too funny!! From the comments it seems that a lot of people got these books and then never read them. I’ve been slowly but surely trying to read all of the books that I’ve owned for several years–but there’s nothing more exciting than a new book!!

    *Melody – The premise is interesting, but this definitely isn’t an exciting book. Mostly intimate–so if plot’s more your thing I would skip this one…

  20. never heard of jane hamilton or either of the books.. but i guess this is what book blogging is all about…discovering new authors and new styles of writing.. i think i am going to bookmark this book.. might just be in a mood for it sometime:)

  21. *Ramya – That’s one of my favorite aspects of blogging–finding new books and authors! This one has been around for several years but isn’t widely read.

    *Stephanie – I think a couple of her books were Oprah books (this one definitely was), but I haven’t heard much about her. Weird how that works…sometimes Oprah’s books become so popular!

    *Susan – Thanks for popping in! I hope you like this one.

  22. We read The Map of The World for one of my book clubs and it remains one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It was so hopeless, so sad, and there was no redemption for anyone that I can remember. Sorry to say, I hated it because I always try to look for a glimmer of hope in the bleakest of circumstances.

  23. idzan ismail

    Yoohoo Trish

    Your lists of books, read and unread coincide with mine.
    I have read all 15 of Jodi Picoult books. She’s one of my fave authors.My favourite is The Pact.
    Have most of Anne Tyler’s books except for If Morning Ever Comes,The Clock Winder and Earthly Possessions.
    As to Jane Hamilton, I find The Book Of Ruth better than The Map of The World.
    Now I’m into Alice Hoffman and owned two – Seventh Heaven and Skylight Confessions.
    The Book I wanted to own is A Tree in Brooklynn.
    It’s hard to find most of the back issues though we have a good used bookstore of American novels.
    I told my girl who is a sophomore at the University of Chicago to get it for me. Keeping my fingers crossed.
    Idzan Ismail of Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

  24. *Bellezza – Oh no!! It was fairly depressing, but I’ve read some downright painful books (the lone Anne Tyler book I read was incredibly hopeless in my opinion and I’ve been afraid to pick up anything else even though everyone loves her).

    *Idzan – Thanks for coming by!! I’m glad you liked The Book of Ruth better than this one–gives me something to look forward to! I haven’t read either of the Hoffman books you mentioned, but I’ll have to keep my eye open for them. I hope you have a great weekend!