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Fiction Literary

The Birthday Lunch

by (author) Joan Clark

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Jun 2015
Literary, Family Life, Psychological
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jun 2015
    List Price

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From the bestselling author of Latitudes of Melt and An Audience of Chairs: The Birthday Lunch is the story of one pivotal week in the life of a family facing a tragic loss, rich with dramatic tension and beautifully rendered.
Free-spirited Lily has always played the peacemaker between her fierce, doting sister, Laverne, and her own loving, garrulous husband, Hal, as they competed for her attention. The competition has only grown worse since the three of them moved into a large house in the town of Sussex, New Brunswick. On Lily’s 58th birthday, a steamy day in late June, Laverne feels she has bested Hal by winning her sister’s company for a gourmet lunch, but it becomes a bitter and short-lived victory when the day’s events take an unexpected and tragic turn.
            IThe Birthday Lunch, Joan Clark explores the different ways each member of Lily's family confronts her shocking death: Hal's open sorrow, her daughter Claudia's reappraisal of her own life, her son Matt's determination to assign blame. And unforgettably, Laverne's eccentricity and isolation, her intensifying conflict with Hal, illuminates the brutal territory of accusation and regret. Compassionate and engrossing with a powerful sense of place, The Birthday Lunch is an extraordinary new novel from one of our most gifted storytellers.

About the author

Joan Clark is one of Canada's most distinguished writers. She was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, grew up in Sydney Mines and in Sussex, New Brunswick, and lived for twenty years in Alberta. There, she began her literary career as a children's author and, with Edna Alford, founded Dandelion, Alberta's first literary magazine. Since the mid-1980s, she has made her home in St. John's, Newfoundland. In 1991, Clark received the prestigious Marian Engel Award. In addition to Swimming Toward the Light, she is the author of three novels. The first, The Victory of Geraldine Gull, won the Canadian Authors' Association Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Governor General's Award and the Books in Canada First Novel Award. Eriksdotter was a fictional account of the voyage to Finland led by Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red. Her most recent novel, Latitudes of Melt, is a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Caribbean and Canada region, and is a recent nominee for the international IMPAC Award.

Joan Clark's profile page


  • Long-listed, International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • Short-listed, Newfoundland and Labrador Book Awards

Editorial Reviews

Longlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award

“An absorbing read.” —Gateway Gazette
“Each of the surviving family members responds to Lily’s abrupt passing in his or her own way, and Clark probes these responses with the clear eye of a novelist, in the process creating a richly textured and emotionally authentic story that does not shy away from the mean and petty aspects of human nature. . . . The narrative is told from multiple points of view, and the author’s skill is such that she can jump with apparent ease from one to another, often within a single scene, without jarring or confusing the reader. Flashbacks are introduced at oppor­tune moments, deftly expanding on what we know of the characters and giving heft to their actions and motivations in the present. The New Brunswick set­ting is drawn in fond detail, coming alive with visual and sensory cues. It all adds up to a superb performance by a writer whose talents, late in her career, show no sign of diminishing. . . . In this moving and disquieting novel, Joan Clark demonstrates that small actions and seemingly trivial decisions can have life-altering consequences.” —Ian Colford, The Fiddlehead
Clark nails it. . . . Clark’s language . . . is clear, unfussy, and rich as the Black Forest cake that is one character’s specialty. . . . It is as carefully configured as an interior by a Dutch Master. (I don’t know if Clark is Dutch, but she sure is a master.) Low-key and deftly observed, The Birthday Lunch provides a menu of fruitful human drama.” —Joan Sullivan, The Telegram
The Birthday Lunch is a quiet novel that saves its surprises for its final third. . . . Ultimately, the novel celebrates the intimacies shared between family and friends, while simultaneously revealing the (potentially fatal) nature of unresolved hostilities.” —Angie Abdou, Quill & Quire
“The book’s glance at small town life as juxtaposed against the pain of personal tragedy is impressive. Clark, too, is impressive as she examines ‘the quicksand of sorrow’ which can catch, unaware, the survivors of sudden disaster. . . . As she sifts through what are considered the aftershocks of sorrow (disbelief, rebellion, outrage) Clark paints a portrait not only of family dysfunction but of human resilience, and of the stages in between in which denial is replaced by grudging acceptance. Clark has done her homework and her chronicle, tartly observed, rings true.” —Nancy Schiefer, Chatham Daily News
“As in all her work . . . readers can expect unexpected humor, hard truths, beauty and above all, compassion.” —Sean Wilson, Ottawa Citizen 
“[A] new novel from Joan Clark is very definitely a reason to celebrate.” —Parry Sound North Star 
“[A] thoughtful and compassionate read.” —Zoomer Magazine
“The latest from the popular and award-winning Canadian author of Latitudes of Melt.” —Toronto Star 
“Poignant.” —Kendra Marion, The Reading Society
“[A] beautifully written and completely engrossing story of love, loss and family dynamics in the aftermath of a tragedy.” —Teresa Salvatore, The Reading Society
“A collage of sorrow that grabs you with its first sentence.” —Kitty Prophet, The Reading Society
“Joan Clark . . . blazes her own distinct trail, fondly but incisively portraying Sussex, New Brunswick. . . . [S]tellar. . . . [A] vibrant delight.” —Brett Josef Grubisic, National Post

“A richly detailed, enthralling account of a family struggling in the aftermath of a woman’s sudden death.  Clark grabs you with a powerful opening sentence then takes you on a weeklong journey through grief, regrets, recrimination and betrayal. It’s a surprising and beautiful ballad of loss that begs us to question our grasp on this world, and on each other.” —Lori Lansens, author of The Mountain Story
“Utterly absorbed, I read The Birthday Lunch in two sittings. With measured steps, Joan Clark leads us into the heart of tragedy, exposing its stunning swiftness and pain-layered aftermath. This beautiful, wise novel delineates place—1980s Sussex, New Brunswick, with its lilacs, morning mists, church bells—and character, a family stunned by death. Grief, love, accusation: Clark is unflinching in her examination of tragedy’s bewildering effects, and how, in the summer days that follow devastation, a family comes together in its new pattern and finds a bittersweet equilibrium. Unforgettably, The Birthday Lunch renders the mundane brilliance of shock—a new way to see the world.” —Beth Powning, author of A Measure of Light
“Clark’s writing is deliciously precise and the book quietly explosive.” —Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth Is Missing

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