Garbo Laughs

Garbo Laughs

Book - 2003
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A Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year
A Quill & Quire Top Five Canadian Fiction Book of the Year
A Maclean's Top Ten Book of the Year

Elizabeth Hay's runaway national bestseller is a funny, sad-eyed, deliciously entertaining novel about a woman caught in a tug of war between real life and the films of the past. Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child, Harriet Browning forms a Friday-night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a girl with Bette Davis eyes, and an earthy sidekick named after Dinah Shore. Into this idiosyncratic world, in time with the devastating ice storm of 1998, come two refugees from Hollywood: Harriet's Aunt Leah, the jaded widow of a screenwriter blacklisted in the 1950s, and her sardonic, often overbearing stepson, Jack. They bring harsh reality and illuminate the pull of family and friendship, the sting of infidelity and revenge, the shock of illness and sudden loss. Poignant, brilliant, and delightfully droll, Garbo Laughs reveals how the dramas of everyday life are sometimes the most astonishing of all.

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: Toronto : M&S, c2003.
ISBN: 9780771037924
Branch Call Number: HAY
Characteristics: 375 p.


From Library Staff

This is a deliciously entertaining novel about a woman caught in a tug of war between real life and the films of the past. Inflamed by the movies she was deprived of as a child, Harriet Browning forms a Friday-night movie club with three companions-of-the-screen: a boy who loves Frank Sinatra, a ... Read More »

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Nov 02, 2020

I gave up on this novel simply because the audio quality of the mp3 file is so poor that it distracted me from the content of the story. "Read by the author" is often a red flag as well. Otherwise, a goodish story, especially for fans of old movies.

brianreynolds Jan 23, 2016

While Elizabeth Hay’s <i>Garbo Laughs</i> is deliciously written and spins an entertaining romantic-comedy with enough complexity to make it seem honest, my real reason for appreciating her skill in this book is my own ignorance of film. Although I’m of an age to have seen the ads for almost all of the many, many stars and movies referred to in the novel, I’ve actually seen almost most none of them. If you asked me my favourite actress or actor in the last 60 years, I could form a vague mental picture of someone (maybe) but would have no idea what name to attach. If a cinematic episode suddenly jumped into my brain, it’s almost certain I’d have no idea what movie it came from. I like films, but I rarely see them for all sorts of reasons that aren’t very interesting. But somehow Hay was able to interest me, paint a picture of people passionate about something I know nothing about, and make me love them for it. That’s no small feat. She’s funny; she’s insightful; she’s poignant. This is a good read.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 05, 2015

If you are an old movies buff, you will love Hay’s new novel of a family addicted to the film classics. Sinatra, Brando, Keaton and Garbo live again through the lives of this idiosyncratic family. Harriet Browning’s love for her husband and children beats strongly through the novel as she writes unsent letters to Pauline Kael, the well-known movie critic, that speak about her relationships with her family, neighbours, friends and difficult relatives. The vagaries of the Ottawa climate are reflected in the disharmony that settles slowly around Harriet’s family. Infidelity, illness and death; love, friendship and happiness are all laid bare in Hay’s “reel” life story.

Sep 07, 2013

Part way through, I was going to give up on this....then I got sucked back in again. While I enjoyed it, sometimes I found the author's style a little too remote, and she made leaps that she expected me to make, too, so at times I had to go back and figure out why people were where they were and what was going on - lots of jumping around in the chronology of events, so that, e.g., in one paragraph she will mention that it snowed on December 25, and in the next paragraph we're back in November. Overall, though, an enjoyable read, for sure. Full of wonderful observations (I've put some in the "quotes" section here).

Apr 13, 2013

Gee, I wish I had a neighbour as amusing as Harriet--although perhaps I might, over time, find her obsession with movies somewhat alienating--as her husband, Lew, did. Even as a reader I wished there were about one third fewer film references--and I'm a film buff. Yes, they helped reveal character, but too often they didn't add anything new and seemed rather like some children portrayed in films, allowed to wail on and on to get the point across that they're obnoxious--when maybe six seconds would suffice. Not only were film references excessive (to me) but after a while they undermined credibility--especially those from the son's and daughter's points of view. Still, there were many pleasures in this book.

Jul 22, 2012

Read 2010

Feb 07, 2010

did not enjoy as much as latest


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Sep 07, 2013

The next day they drove home, across country scoured by glaciers—pressed under ice a mile deep, and pressed repeatedly, until the ice melted for good and the land made a scarred rebound into the marvellous light. Like my childhood, she thought. It too had been a kind of ice age from which the parental glacier had finally retreated, and then what a lot of work it had been to get anything to grow on the boulder-filled, back-breaking personality that remained.

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