One woman is an ex-beauty queen, one is a recovering addict to virtue, one is an artist. The man of the big old house on the hill, Philip Lawrence, is suddenly dead. These things happen. LUCK is not a murder mystery. But Philip's silent overnight departure is bound to have its effects on the household. The abruptly widowed Nora, an artist whose recent works have caused a fundamentalist furore in the town where they live, is unexpectedly confronted by solo life in a place she despises. Beth, the wispy, beautiful model who specializes in brewing curative teas, comes face to face with her own history with mortality. Sophie, a former overseas aid volunteer shattered by trauma, who has spent four years in the household performing dull chores, one task at a time, will have to find new ways to resist old compulsions. Joan Barfoot's previous work has been praised for its wit, empathy and even its wisdom. With LUCK she turns her typically aslant eye, her voice of sly comedy, and her demanding attention, to three extreme women confronted by that extreme inevitability, death itself.
Nominated for the 2005 Scotiabank Giller Prize
Named to the Globe and Mail list of top 100 books of 2005
Scotiabank Giller Prize jury citation: "Joan Barfoot is at the peak of her powers with this splendidly realized tragicomedy about a household in the wake of an unexpected death. With its note-perfect narration, mordant wit, and wonderfully neurotic cast of characters, Luck shows how death can reveal life in all its absurdity and complexity. This scintillating comedy of manners is also a profound meditation on fate, love, and artifice."
ALICE MUNRO: LUCK took me right out of myself - I read it in one gulp and it never let me down. Sharp and surprising but always responsible, no tricks for tricks' sake; so satisfying, with its shifting and puzzles. So much fiction turns out to be diversion, in spite of fancy claims, and doesn't really look at anything. Well - this does.
The Globe and Mail:
...A satirical romp through mortality and the grief of Phil’s housemate-survivors, his artist wife Nora, their ebullient housekeeper Sophie, and Nora’s live-in model, Beth, a herbal tea-meister trapped in an ex-beauty queen’s body.
Splicing the women’s points of view, the novel lays each of their pasts upon the slab, so to speak, as events unfold over the three days from Phil’s demise to his cremation. Each postmortem reveals the happenstances that have landed them in the old house on the hill in smalltown (one guesses) Ontario. The results are doled out in Barfoot’s fluid but barbed prose, the kind of writing that’s earned her comparisons with Carol Shields, Anne Tyler, Fay Weldon and Margaret Drabble...
Black-humoured and blessed as can be with literary acuity and acid wit...if comparisons are apt here, think Carol Shields with attitude. An often hilarious, insightful dance macabre.
Quill & Quire:
Barfoot now wears fiction like a glove...Luck is by turns sad, scary, quirky and moving. It provides moments of high comedy, as when Philip’s ex-wife gives a paint-strippingly bitter speech at his funeral. The conclusion - the opening of Nora’s show...is near-Shakespearean, reuniting the household in a profoundly remade form...a fitting end to a deeply enjoyable novel.
...Barfoot takes off and soars. She has an uncanny way of blending light and dark, seriousness and humour, the tragic and the absurd, all of it held together by a deeply felt moral centre. She is no pedant or ideologue, but she is acutely ethical in the truest sense of the word. Her characters have to make choices, often difficult ones, and then live with the consequences. Her fine black wit and unsentimental compassion for her characters raises, what in lesser hands could have turned into a macabre caricature, a sophisticated story of life and its unavoidable ending: death.
Booker listed for her last novel, Critical Injuries, Barfoot is at her best in Luck. The story is stark and unsentimental, the language spare as it deals with such issues as bereavement, unfaithfulness, reconciliation and survival. Like a chamber piece, the characters may be different but they somehow work together to make, if not always beautiful, then compelling music.
London Free Press:
The remarkable talent of London's Joan Barfoot is again apparent in her latest and perhaps most inventive novel, Luck...Barfoot's book is black humour at its best. Sly, sardonic and wryly witty, Luck unfolds against the mordant backdrop of sudden death. A page-turner from the beginning, Luck is an engrossing, riveting read, its comic undercurrents carrying the reader along on a crest of drollery and suspense that would be difficult to match...As to be expected with a Barfoot novel, Luck is immensely readable, a wonderfully written piece of fiction that will please the discerning reader. Its polish and style reflect, in spades, the book jacket's praise from Alice Munro: 'I read it in one gulp, and it never let me down.'
(Luck) as much as her other fiction, absconds with predictability and happily digs through layers of truth and self delusion, disclosure and concealment...And a storyteller Barfoot is. Part Jane Austen, part Margaret Drabble, Barfoot dives deep under the surface of the lives of ordinary people who reveal themselves to be wildly unusual, disorderly, almost hilariously unpredictable.
Barfoot has been tagged with comparisons to many of the great Canadian writers, including Alice Munro. But the mantle of Carol Shields fits her particularly well in this book. This contained piece follows the three women for three days following Philip's abrupt death and then sums up the results of the decisions made in those days with a sort of post mortem a year later.
In those brief days Barfoot packs a punch of multiple themes from redemption to mortality to the nature of artistic freedom and obscenity.
Her irony is delicious...Barfoot's feel for the small town, her depth of feeling for her characters and her sometimes cutting black wit make Luck a fine, satisfying and luscious read.
Winnipeg Free Press:
Sardonic, slightly absurd and suspenseful, Ontario writer Joan Barfoot's new novel is an evocative and vivid story of three women and their reactions during the first three days after a death in the house they share.
With eight previous novels under belt, including Critical Injuries (longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize), Barfoot has been compared to Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler and Margaret Drabble, thanks to her attention to the minutiae of daily life...
What ensues is an unpredictable, harrowing and hilarious romp through the grieving process, and three very different ways of answering Barfoot's question: "Now what?"
Publisher’s Weekly(U.S), (starred review)
Canadian novelist Barfoot (Dancing in the Dark) may finally get the recognition she deserves for this brilliantly conceived, masterfully realized 10th novel. Nora, a successful sculptor in her late 30s, wakes up one morning to find her custom furniture-designer husband, Philip Lawrence, 46, dead beside her. The rest of the novel simply follows her and the rest of the household, verité-style, as they make decisions and try to internalize what has happened over the course of that day and the two that follow. The rest of the household consists of Beth, a wispy former model who moved in to serve as Nora's muse over the past few years, and Sophie, a fleshy economist who burned out as an aid worker, and has been holed up with the other three as caretaker and financial manager. Barfoot makes the most of this uncomfortable ménage without overplaying her hand a single time: yes, Philip and Sophie were sleeping together, and yes, it's even possible that Beth poisoned Philip in order to get with Nora. Barfoot alternates among the three women's points of view with comic but never trivializing adroitness, and expertly spins out their backstories and recent lives together. The book is set in an English West Country town (with flashbacks to London), and there's a nice subplot concerning Nora's controversial use of religious imagery. But the real fireworks are in the minute explorations of this closed set of unorthodox relationships, all brought to a finish in a short coda set a year after Philip's death. Coming upon this novel is a fine piece of luck indeed.
Kirkus Reviews,(U.S.)(starred review)
Canadian author Barfoot (Critical Injuries, 2002, etc.) displays a quiet brilliance in her latest novel, about three women who come to terms with the unexpected death of the man in their midst. In a large house in a small town, somewhere in North America, a man dies in his sleep. The middle-aged and hitherto robust Philip Lawrence has had a heart attack. His wife Nora screams, something she failed to do years before when she rang a doorbell and first encountered Philip "lean, grinning, nude." Impressed by her cool, Philip promptly jettisoned his first wife and took Nora back to his hometown, where he thrived as a furniture designer and she as a cutting-edge artist. Nora’s scream brings Sophie and Beth running. Sophie, a voluptuous, 30-ish redhead, is the housekeeper/bookkeeper; the younger Beth, a beautiful airhead, is Noraís live-in model. The novel plays out over the next three days, culminating in the funeral.
Wryly humorous and bittersweet, it is full of surprises. For the last two months, Philip and Sophie have been lovers, passionate but cautious; Sophie, then, is as devastated as Nora. Beth, however, feels liberated; she has erotic designs on Nora. There are intriguing mysteries: Why has Nora’s artwork caused outraged townspeople to daub their fence with graffiti? What is causing Sophie’s nightmares? Why is Beth so tight-lipped about her family? (The answer there is a real shocker.) As the funeral nears, the memory of good-hearted, gregarious, sometimesfickle Philip is everywhere. Nestled snugly within the narrative arenumerous themes: the nature of grief, the making of art, the uses (andmisuses) of beauty, with the role of chance looping through them all. Thereis a lively funeral (Beth goes nuts, for one) and a satisfying coda at an art gallery a year later. Barfoot brings a fine protean energy to the different perspectives of the women, intensifying our curiosity about their destinies; nice work.
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (U.K.): Ever since the discovery of chaos theory, novelists have been preoccupied with happenstance, and it's no surprise that one of Canada's finest practitioners should have chosen Luck for the title of her latest novel. As Joan Barfoot remarks, "Everybody's got a story... Experiences and trajectories ricochet off each other, they take slow curves and sharp turns, they wreak confusion here, salvation there - and this is the hardest thing - there's no way to predict which detail or tiny decision may grow huge in consequence." Beth, Sophie and Nora are three women who wake up one morning to find Phil, the man whose house they share, dead in bed. The novel follows their reactions, feelings, guilty secrets and discoveries over the next three days. It's a simple device, so simple that it needs much technical skill, wit and insight to carry it off. Barfoot, Booker-longlisted for her last novel, Critical Injuries, and admired by no less than Carol Shields and Alice Munro, is more than up to the challenge.... Like the cult television series Six Feet Under and Desperate Housewives, Luck is a sustained, sardonic satire on mortality. This being Canada, not California, the small town religious zealotry is harsher, with the ugly side of village life revealed slowly, and almost as quickly overlaid with funeral baked pies and cookies from the community. Barfoot has not chosen to comment before on the way women artists confront prejudice and stupidity, and her observations are even-handed in their wisdom and acidity. She springs jokes and puns on you, her punctuation Sparkian in its fastidious exactitude and her eye for the quietly absurd unerring... Barfoot is both harrowing and hilarious. Her voice is that of a friend confiding the most intimate stories about mutual acquaintances, yet like all the best novelists she is principally addressing not us, but the fact of our cumulative acts of betrayal and cruelty. This is far funnier than Critical Injuries, a black comedy that has a happy ending as temporary and random as luck itself.
DAILY MAIL (U.K.): Barfoot has been compared to Carol Shields and Luck, her tenth novel, will not disappoint. From the start her comic talent is clear, while her eye for 'the miracle of life's sudden perfections' confirms her as a writer of considerable power. Luck is one of her best yet.
SUNDAY TIMES (U.K.) Our capacity to survive and adapt is thoughtfully examined but the novel's structure is its real strength: Barfoot drops key questions at the start, then releases information in small, tantalising packets, maintaining the interest.
IRELAND ON SUNDAY: Luck is a book about death that is alive with passion and an absolute joy to read...There are no pat, happy endings here, but there is a rising from the ashes, a survival, and it doesn't seem incongruous that there is fun, too. Barfoot's writing is both emotionally generous and smarting with wit. Luck is a faultless delight.
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING (U.K.): [Barfoot] beautifully captures the irreverent and banal details of coping with death and funeral-arranging, as well as the huge pain of physical absence...It's bad luck that Philip dies, but fortuitous in that his demise allows these three witchy and bitchy women to take over the story, revealing their pasts and obsessions.
WATERSTONE'S QUARTERLY (U.K.): This is a clever, funny and moving book with genuine insights about the nature of grief and just what constitutes luck, good or bad. Barfoot is a shrewd writer whose ability to move between the serious and the comic will have you tittering and pondering in equal measure.
DAILY RECORD (U.K.): After only a few pages of Joan Barfoot's latest release, the plot screams of eclectic originality...Just as unique as the plot is the narrative - a dry, perceptive voice that occasionally participates in the story by offering dry asides and acerbic opinions. Bizarre? Yes. But addictive.
QUILL & QUIRE (Canada): [Barfoot] explores the uneasy interface between cosmopolitan culture and small-town Ontario parochialism. Slipping easily from one character's consciousness to another, she fills in the backstories of the three women...Luck tells us we are all at the mercy of chance: no life is safe from pain, but by the same token, none is beyond recovery. With a reputation firmly established in 1978 by her award-winning first novel, Abra, Barfoot now wears fiction like a glove...Luck is by turns sad, scary, quirky, and moving. It provides moments of high comedy...(and) the conclusion...is near-Shakespearean, reuniting the household in a profoundly remade form. Just off-kilter enough to save the ending from being pat, the scene is a fitting end to a deeply enjoyable novel.