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The Unfinished Journals Of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier Read-a-long – Discussion Week 1

on August 15, 2012

Hello everyone and welcome to the first part of the discussion of The Unfinished Novels of Elizabeth D, by Nichole Bernier.  Just a quick warning once again that this post (and the comments) will contain **SPOILERS** for the first 136p of the novel so it’s definitely best that you not read ahead here until you’ve completed that section of the book. That out of the way, let’s go!

To recap briefly, this section of the book introduces us to Kate, her husband Chris and their children James and Piper. When Chris and Kate moved to Connecticut some years ago, Kate joined a mothers’ group and found a friend in Elizabeth. The two socialised regularly, both within the mothers’ group and separate from it until Kate and Chris moved away to Washington D.C. some 2 years before the book begins. Elizabeth is killed in a plane crash on her way to an artist’s retreat and Kate discovers that Elizabeth has left her something in her will – a trunk full of journals that Elizabeth has been keeping since she was very young. The note from Elizabeth left with her solicitor says that Elizabeth chose to leave them to Kate because Kate would know ‘the right thing to do’.

Kate and her family are on their way to a seven week break at a house they rent on Great Rock Island every summer – usually for two weeks but after the tumultuous experience of losing Elizabeth, they are taking a much longer break. Elizabeth’s husband Dave has requested that Kate pick up the journals on her way through to the island and he confesses to Kate that he read the most recent one and it seems that Elizabeth was meeting another man, not participating in an artist’s retreat like everyone thought. Kate isn’t sure what to make of this, but as they settle in to the island house and she begins to read the journals, it seems that she is experiencing an Elizabeth that’s entirely different from the one she knew.

I am loving this book – I have kept journals on and off since I was 12 or 13, although not with the dedication of Elizabeth. Some start off well and taper out by mid-January never to be written in again, some are sporadically kept up throughout the whole year and a few are faithfully written in every day! They’re in a plastic snap-lock tub in our garage and I have to admit, this book really made me think about what I’d want done with them in the event of something happening to me. A lot of the time I use them to vent my frustration, to say the things that I cannot say out loud, be it about my husband in moments of anger, or my family when they annoy me, or even my husband’s family. There are definitely things there that I wouldn’t want people to see – that’s why I write it in a diary. It’s supposed to be for my eyes only, they’re private. So, I’m a little curious – do any of our read-a-long participants keep diaries or journals, no matter how frequently? If so, have you ever thought about what might become of them after you are gone? If you had a choice, what would you want done with them?

Then we have the other side of the coin – Kate is the recipient of her friend’s journals, detailing her life for roughly 26 years. Elizabeth has no real wish for what she wants done with them, other than she thinks that Kate will do what is right and fair. If you were the recipient of someone’s journals, would you read them? Or would you destroy them unread, so that their thoughts would rest with them? Or maybe you’d keep them until their children were old enough to decide what to do with them? I have to admit, I’m not really sure what I’d do but I think that ultimately, curiosity would get the better of me – I’d have to read them! Depending on what I found would probably decide what I chose to do with them after that, which seems to be the way Kate is feeling. Obviously she doesn’t want to taint the children’s memory of their mother, if she finds things that are perhaps better off left to lie… but the children are also barely going to know their mother – two of them will probably remember nothing about her once they reach adulthood so the journals could be a valuable way for them to connect to Elizabeth.

I am torn between feeling sorry for Dave, Elizabeth’s husband and not really liking him. I understand his resentment about not being left the journals but I find him a bit abrasive. I’m trying to cut him some slack because he’s quite obviously grieving and also dealing with feelings of betrayal and anger, as he believes that Elizabeth was cheating on him towards the end of her life and was actually going to see a lover, rather than the painting retreat she told him about.

As Kate gets further into the diaries and realises that this is a totally different Elizabeth from the one she remembered as her friend, she starts to question other areas of her life, including her relationship with her husband Chris. She believes that he is hiding smoking from her. I really admired the way in which this novel portrayed marriage, both Kate and Chris’s marriage and also Elizabeth and Dave’s. I have all these theories on who Elizabeth might be seeing and why, what might be happening between Kate and Chris – anyone else been speculating? I’d love for some people to lay their thoughts out so we can compare back later when we’ve completed the book!

I could go on forever about this book because I think there’s so much to talk about but I’m turning it over the comments now, so come and share your thoughts!


67 responses to “The Unfinished Journals Of Elizabeth D by Nichole Bernier Read-a-long – Discussion Week 1

  1. I am also loving this book, and I think that if I was in the same position as Kate – being left the journals of a friend – I would also read them. I agree that the content of the journals would hopefully help me decide what to do with them. I think Elizabeth was meeting Michael in LA, and I had assumed it was the same Michael that she had a relationship with at school. Whether they had been in touch the whole time, or had recently reconnected, remains to be seen. Elizabeth has had quite a tough life with the death of many relatives to deal with. I guess writing the journals began as a kind of therapy, and perhaps she enjoyed the secretive nature of them. She seems to have trouble opening up to people. On the other hand, I did wonder how much Kate was really entitled to know about Elizabeth’s life before they met. I’m sure when we meet a new friend we don’t neccessarily share everything that has happened in our lives up to that point. I’m assuming that many of the things that happened to Elizabeth were just too painful to talk about.
    As far as Kate and Chris go, I’m not really sure where they are heading. Is he having an affair (or perhaps several) while away on his business trips?
    I can’t to read the next section

    • Hi Emma, I’m glad you seem to be liking this as much as I am! I do agree that Elizabeth did have quite a tough life – there was very little closure for her over the death of her sister and it seems both her parents were quite distant from her and didn’t really seem to help her deal with it. It’s a tough thing for parents, to lose a child, but Elizabeth was very young and she was obviously very scarred by it.

  2. Feistykel says:

    Ooh I so love this book!!! I have kept journals, but I tend to edit them to make them okay to be found – sort of defeats the purpose. I love the vibe of this book, the assessment of how we can often feel as mothers, and of our lives as our own people beyond that role.

    I admit I felt empathy for Dave, to discover once shes gone that she had by all looks been unfaithful and then being unable to read the books and find out, I’d be kinda pissed off too I think! Were I in Kates shoes, I absolutely would read them! I don’t think I could stand not to, inc ase there was something I needed to know from them. How would you feel though, to discover some major secrets about your friend that you really were unaware of? I’d struggle with that, I suspect, and worry I’d let them down somehow that they hadn’t confided in me.

    I’m interested to see what happens with Chris and Kate, there’s some definite tension going on there. Great book this one, I couldn’t put it down.

    • Hi Kel, glad you’re also enjoying the read! Like you, I’d be very wary of reading a close friend’s journals around the time that we were friends. I know from keeping them that journals are my venting so I’d be wary of just what would be in them about me, because everyone has those moments where they present a ‘face’ but really they’re upset or seething. I’d hate knowing I inadvertently upset a friend over something I actually thought they were fine with.

      How do you feel about Kate? Do you like her?

  3. I am thoroughly enjoying this book so far!

    First I thought I’d start by answering your questions! 🙂 I am a bit like you Bree – I have kept journals on and off since I was about 12, and like you some were written in daily, whilst others are lucky to have a few weeks worth of entries. But I have always been aware that others might read them and that has definitely affected what I have written in them (When I have something serious to vent I write it on loose paper and burn it!). I would hope that if something happened to me my partner would read them and keep them for my children for when they are older.

    And in answer to your next lot of questions – I would be reading journals someone had left to me for sure! And I would keep them for her children no matter what they held. For me, it’s like something Chris said early on – about Kate making a choice about what Dave and the kids need to know, about what’s best for them. But like Chris is saying – it’s not really Kate’s place.

    I feel sorry for Dave. He has lost his wife, only to learn that her journals – the keepers of all her secrets, are to go to a friend, instead of a husband. Then he discovers proof (he thinks) that she was having an affair. To be honest if I was in his shoes I don’t think I could have resisted reading the journals, even though they hadn’t been left to me.

    There is so much to talk about in this book. So many points where I felt a heartbreak for what was happening – p. 9 when Jonah says “Did you know my mum is dead?” and there was that awful pause before Chris knelt down and says “I know buddy. I’m really sorry about that. My mom’s dead too. It’s hard isn’t it.”

    I recorded so many other comments but here’s just a few. On p 19 Kate notes that the journals were agitating the healing process. It is partly for this reason I would give the journals back after I’d read them. No matter how hurtful the truth is, the not knowing, the lack of certainty means there is no room for Dave and the kids to move past what happened.

    And p 20 “to free the key she had to relock the trunk, an excluding click that felt a further insult to [Dave]”.

    I loved how Kate was responding to the journals, like she was speaking with Elizabeth of that time. “Don’t trust him. Though of course, whatever was done, was done.” p 75

    I’m wondering what is going on with Chris to be honest – Kate is certain he is still smoking, even though he assured her he quit. And I wonder if he is also cheating on her – though some of his comments would suggest otherwise, but maybe he’s just covering up?

    I could go on, but I’ll leave it for someone else! 🙂

    • Hi Heather, it’s easy to go on about this one, isn’t it? I had to stop myself in the actual post because I had so much to say but I didn’t want to leave no discussion, lol. I’m glad you’re enjoying the book as well!

      Unlike you, I hope that someone destroys my journals when I’m gone. They’re really not something I’d want my children to read. Instead I have photo albums, blogs and a few smash books devoted to them that I would want them to have. My journals are what is for me only. Perhaps a few entries should’ve been written on paper and then burned! But like you, I’d definitely read journals left to me! I am a voyeur that way I love getting sneak peaks into other people’s lives! It’s why I read personal blogs too.

      I think Chris and Kate are interesting… I’m finding myself analysing their marriage as I read, the frustrations, the remarks, etc. Sometimes it just seems like they’re going through the motions of marriage, and I guess all couples probably have those moments at times, so it’s hard to judge just from the first portion of the book.

  4. […] out Bree’s blog here for more comments on the read-a-long so far. (Warning – Bree’s blog and the following […]

  5. Susan says:

    I’m struggling a bit with this book; the writing is basic and reasonably easy to digest, but I’m not finding it especially compelling. For me, the idea of reading about someone else who is reading about someone else is a little uninteresting, and I’m feeling detached from the characters. I understand that the author is leaking the plot slowly, but it all seems to be unravelling a little too slowly and colourlessly for me.

    The biggest problem I’m having is the use of italics for Elizabeth’s diary entries. While I understand that it serves a purpose in highlighting the diary excerpts, I find it difficult and tiring to read such long entries in italics. Plus, I find it a little confusing when the script turns back to the regular serif font, but it isn’t necessarily talking about Kate, or from Kate’s perspective. I find that I have to re-orient myself often when reading this book.

    I get bored with scenes where mundane activities receive a lot of attention, such as the hair-drying on page 40 and the teeth-brushing etc on page 86 (ugh!). I’m also not keen on the repetition in the writing, where the author tends to couple together the same word in bunches (eg naive/naivete in pages 84-90, and naturally/naturally on p.87). Likewise, the author has a habit of tailing location descriptions with some kind of prosaic banality, eg “Around the flagstone deck, conical topiaries corralled the guests so they did not push back chairs into the organic gardens.” The sentence starts off pleasantly offering a pretty description of the courtyard, then jumps you out with the irritating practicality about the patrons and their chairs.

    Bernier also has a habit of naming characters that haven’t been formally introduced, so you have to put the person and the name together via assumption. One example (correct me if I’m wrong) is Elizabeth’s mother, who is suddenly referred to as ‘Amelia’ on page 116, but has featured heavily in the book up until this point. I had the same problem at the beginning of the book when Kate, Chris, Dave, and the kids all come together. It wasn’t specified which family belonged to which surname, so I found myself having to work hard as a reader to work out who was a Martin and who was a Spenser (the fact that the title indicates Elizabeth’s surname began with D didn’t help).

    I’m uneasy with the suggestion that Elizabeth’s spirit is watching over Kate, guiding her to read the journals in order (ref: p.90 where Kate feels like she has been touched on the shoulder). I’m quite a spiritual person myself, but for some reason it feels a little far-fetched here.

    The final issue I’m having is that I just don’t like the characters. Kate seems shallow and frosty, especially with the narrow-minded assumptions she seems so ready to distribute (eg p.80 when Kate mentally berates Chris for asking about the journals: “That’s what it always came down to in the end…”

    As for the positives, I love the artwork on the cover: how beautiful! I also like the switch in format from page 93 where Elizabeth’s entries are summarised rather than copied out verbatim.

    To this point, much of the writing feels like padding; hopefully the pace will pick up a bit from here.

    • Hi Susan, it’s unfortunate that you’re not enjoying the book as much as the rest of us are but it’s always good to have differing opinions in a read-a-long and I can relate to some of what you say, particularly how you feel about Kate. Although I love the story, I have to say I find Kate herself hard to like most of the time.

      I also agree about the book’s cover. It is absolutely fabulous.

  6. Lisa M says:

    I have really enjoyed this book – I have never kept a journal but if I was to I think I would leave them to my husand or get them to be destroyed. I think if I was left journals I would have to read them, the curosity would get the better of me and I would have to read them
    I felt sorry for Dave having his wife just die and then realising that all her journals were going to be going to her friend not her husband, I know if I was in that situation I would be upset.
    I feel there is more to the relationship between Kate and Chris – it seems a bit strained and tense. I feel like there is some past history that may come up as to why they seem so seperate.
    I can not wait to finish this book!
    I wrote a short part 1 review on my blog too –

  7. […] am participating in a read along hosted by Bree @1 Girl 2 Many Books & sponsored by Australia’s own Allen & […]

  8. Tien says:

    Am enjoying the reading 😀 It’s not my usual type of books but the mystery behind the journals did interest me, LOL – I think that just proves the point that if someone leaves me their journals, I would read it but then again, maybe I don’t really want to know what they really think of me!

    My thoughts:

    • I think that would be a lot of people’s internal dilemma – curiosity about reading someone’s private thoughts vs possibly reading things that they’d really be better off not seeing, be it about the person who kept the journals or about their unfiltered thoughts on the person reading! I think it’d be equal parts fascinating equal parts uncomfortable and a burden.

  9. […] I’ll let you know as we hit each chat-point, and feel free to join us (just watch out for spoilers if you’ve not read the book.) Our first conversation is happening here. […]

  10. Sad to say I had not spotted the read along, although I was aware of the book. Meanwhile I have added this to my wish list and plan to read it. It sounds just right for me.

    I have kept journals since I was about 12, written in everyday. It does pose the question of what would happen to them in the event of my death. Would I want anyone to read them? I think that if you read journals belonging to someone else then there must be acceptance that journals are someone’s inner thoughts, feelings & comments and that should be respected. Journals are after all, a snapshot of someone’s history.

    • I do agree with that – people use journals for many reasons and sometimes what is said in there isn’t really an accurate reflection, but coloured by emotions. It would be important to remember that when reading, even though it could be hard, depending on what you came across. I hope you get a chance to read this one soon!

  11. ScarlettHeartt says:

    I enjoyed the first section of our read. I had highlighted a sentence before I even got into the actual story! The last part of the quote from Wallace Stegner at the very start of the book, ‘You are at once a lasting presence and an unhealed wound’ really touched something in me. It made me think of when my mother died when I was a teenager and I felt that I had never been given the chance to know her over and beyond the fraught relationship we had (as many teen daughters and mothers do). So our relationship is a wound that will never heal.

    I have kept journals ever since I could write. For the last 15 years most of them have been on a locked blog. I figure when I die, no one will know the password so the writing will die with me. After reading this novel, I am thinking I might have to either enter all my other entries online or get rid of the journals. There is a lot in there I don’t really want other people to read and get the wrong idea from like my first marriage and other such times.

    Reading the book I don’t feel a great connection with Kate or Dave. I did feel that his children’s grief was too big, too raw, for him to deal with (as shown on page 9 where they sort of just brush over Jonah’s comments about Elizabeth). I was also struck by the idea of children confusing death with a holiday (p.24). Often a death involves a trip somewhere for a funeral and days off school or away from home so it is easy to see how children could come to associate death with a holiday.

    Also the feeling of being in a bubble of grief (p.24). I remember that feeling well – feeling like I was floating over everyone else around me and not quite there, not quite real. Like being underwater when everything is slightly distorted and somewhat muted.

    • I think uploading the journals to a locked blog is a great idea! I kind of would like to do that myself, that way I could revisit them but then also destroy them once I was done. For me they’d always be there but there would be no danger of anyone else stumbling across them!

      Seems a lot of us are really struggling to feel a connection to Kate so far. I’m really interested to see if that changes throughout the rest of the book or if we’re still left feeling isolated from her at the end.

  12. TheNakedScribe says:

    I’m enjoying the book so far, more than I thought I would, since this type of fiction usually isn’t really my bag, baby. I am not a journal keeper, I have tried so many times and have accepted that it’s not something I am able to do regularly, despite being a writer and being told by every successful writer out there to keep diaries/journals/scrapbooks/etc. I do carry a notebook and pen around at all times, but it’s more to work out story ideas, write cafe review notes for my blog, or work on assignments for uni. So not terribly reflective of my personality or my unspoken thoughts.
    I would read Elizabeth’s journals though, I admit to being far too curious, even to find out things I’d really rather not know. If I was around someone who kept a journal, I would never ever read it unless they specifically asked me to, but should they leave some to me in their will with me to decide what to do with them, I would feel an onus on me to read them first before passing them onto family or destroying them (can’t see me doing that, but you never know).
    I am undecided on Bernier’s writing; some sentences and descriptions are quite wonderful, “She thought of how Piper curled into James as they slept in the car, head to head, their high symmetrical eyebrows like two parenthetical statements to Kate’s fulfillment as professional, and then a wife” (p.33), while the obvious laying out of Kate’s sureness of Chris, down to the details of finding a card with a woman’s name on it in his pocket after a business trip and tossing it onto the bureau “without a second thought” (p.51) is too obviously asking us to question the relationship. Or perhaps it’s designed for us to wonder if Kate is sticking her head in the sand. I guess we’ll find out.
    I am finding the story making me turn the pages to see what happens, and after all, that’s what a book is supposed to do isn’t it?

    • That is definitely what it is supposed to do and this one was really making me want to keep going and not stop. There were so many things I wanted to know, so many guesses or theories I’d had myself about things and I wanted to find out if any of them were true at all.

  13. Sussan says:

    Hi everyone.
    Thanks to Bree again for writing another detailed and comprehensive post.
    I am with Susan all the way on this one – I found myself getting confused between the characters and not caring about them. I also thought parts of the book so far have been banal and longwinded. I can’t seem to relate to these characters at all. I also wondered whether Elizabeth’s single journal entry on abortion was convincing – it didn’t quite seem believable to me.
    On a positive note I do like the way Kate reflects on the nature of secrets and how people can be mysterious even when we think we know them.
    Do I keep a journal? Yes, I do, but they’re usually just entries on things to do and feelings I’m experiencing. Would I want to read a friend’s journal? Probably not. I can imagine feeling too uncomfortable and there are really only a few journals I would want to read. I have read the journals of Sylvia Plath and some notes from Virginia Woolf, but it doesn’t really feel intrusive, these journals are works of art – mine would be banal and not really noteworthy.

    • Hi Sussan, I think you’re the first person who has said that they wouldn’t read a friend’s journal! I definitely am far too curious (or perhaps nosy) to pass up such an opportunity, even if I thought that there might be things I wouldn’t particularly like to read. I don’t know if I’d like to have to make the decision of what to do with them though….. that’s a big responsibility.

  14. […] is a mini review post in conjunction with the read-a-long hosted by Bree @ 1Girl2ManyBooks. We’ve read the first third of the book, The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nichole […]

  15. I too have kept journals since I was about 12 (when I started high school), though it has been a couple of years since I have written an entry. I do occasionally write something down on a scrap piece of paper and tuck it away if I have something weighing on my mind.

    Once something is down on paper, it’s external from me and I can think more clearly- it helps me make sense of my feelings. What would I want to happen with my journals if I was no longer here? That’s a tough question but perhaps something I should consider seriously! I have a box tucked away with old letters and journals and I can’t imagine who I would want to have access to them. I think my ambivalence mainly stems from the fact that the only time I write consistently in a journal is when I’m experiencing intense feelings- anger, grief, frustration- that I need to get out of me, I need to offload. Particularly as a teenager, I wrote many angry entries about family issues and if anyone was to read over those they would probably think I was one messed up kid!

    I can completely understand both Kate and Dave’s fascination with the journals. Aren’t we all curious beings? Having access to someone’s most innermost and unfiltered thoughts would be so intriguing. Though, I think Kate is weighed down with both the ‘privilege’ of inheriting the journals whilst also feeling burdened by the consequences of such knowledge. I do feel sorry for Dave; he has lost his wife and what a wonderful opportunity it would be for him to connect with her again- only the journals weren’t left for him. And his curiosity in reading her final entries has left him feeling hurt and betrayed. To be honest, if I was in Kate’s position I probably would wait until I’d read all the journals to decide what to tell him, just as she has indicated she will do at this stage.

    I am finding it difficult to connect with Kate (as many other readers are finding) and I think that’s partly due to her flat affect and the uncertainty in where this is coming from- her grief about losing Elizabeth, the stalemate her marriage has reached or sense of purpose in life (she’s a great cook but has delayed returning to work).

    I also find myself analysing every piece of communication between Kate and Chris. He’s certainly hiding something from her and I think the cynic in me has wondered whether he has been unfaithful, but I don’t think that’s really the case. It would be a bit of an overkill to have Chris cheating on Kate while Elizabeth was possibly having an affair too. But time will tell…

    It’s been so great reading over everyone’s comments, it’s a great book to discuss! I’ve also posted a quickie review on my blog:

    • I’m the same Jayne! I think that if anyone (my husband, close friend etc) were to read mine, they’d think I was a nutter! The high school years are all teen angst about boys, diatribes against my family for some offence or other that probably wasn’t even that bad and the ones from University are all about how little work I could get away with doing and how much sleeping and procrastinating on the internet I could do and still pass. Sometimes this worked out, sometimes it did not! The adult ones are a bit better, especially the one I kept about the first year of my eldest child’s life, but ultimately they’re still where I go to vent when things are irritating me. I even vent about motherhood because it’s bloody hard at times and I’m not sure I’d want my children to ever read about that. It’s realistic, but it would be hurtful.

      • You’re right Bree, when entries are about other people… particularly negative thoughts/ feelings about another person then it would be a little scary for them to get their hands on it. Because it’s really just about a thought/ feeling at any moment in time and i think a journal entry could be taken out of context… and perhaps like Kate it would warp your view about that person which may not be a holistic representation of someone… rather it’s just snippets of all the uncomfortable, upsetting or dirty little secrets that maybe we can’t share with anyone else.

  16. Mandy N says:

    I’m really liking this book so far!
    I’ve tried again and again over the years to keep a journal, but I’m honestly a bit too lazy to continue with it for more than a week, lol.
    And I would definitely read the journals! It would be too much of a temptation for me to receive them and then leave them unread. I do feel sorry for Elizabeth’s husband, imagine believing that your spouse was cheating on you?! So sad…

  17. It took me some time to get into, but I’ve put the thoughts so far on my blog (

    I don’t keep a journal, haven’t really been interested (plus in my field of work it could be rather depressing!) I don’t know if I’d want someone reading intimate details about me!

    At first I thought Kate was a bit ‘blah’ and uninteresting, but that improved for me. I’m feeling much more kindly towards her now, especially as Elizabeth is revealing herself to be different to the person Kate knew…although we all expose different parts of our character at different times and situations!

    • I did feel for Kate when she came to realise that this person was not the person she knew, the one she had been friends with for years. I can imagine how weird that would be for her, feeling like this person writing these intimate journals was a stranger, someone who she knew nothing about. Someone who kept secrets from her that were so huge, like the loss of her sister. It would make me question the friendship.

  18. I’m really enjoying the book and having a bit of a flashback to Beaches, with the difference being the letters were written to the living friend.
    I have kept journals for years, from some point before puberty until my daughter was about 2 or 3 (16 this year) and then I destroyed them all as I would not have wanted her to read them. The next attempt turned into a long analysis of my life (40,000 words) and after some years I destroyed this too. Again, not something I wanted anyone else to read, but I do find clarity, healing and growth come from putting words on paper.
    Would I read someone else’s journals – if under the same circumstances as this, yes. I have a friend who lost his mum in infancy and would love for her to have left journals with anything in them, just so he could see her handwriting, perhaps connect with some of her thoughts whether they were happy, sad or whatever. I think that can be important. I found a note from my father after he passed and still have it – not overly personal, but it’s just ‘him’.
    I too had a little confusion in the first meeting of families and working out who was who, but it seemed to clear itself up a few pages along for me.
    As for Kate – I have totally connected with her, and quite like her – I feel her anxieties about life, the uncertainties, and the I think she is examining her relationship because of her own insecurities. I don’t think Chris is having an affair, due to his reaction to Kate not knowing if she should ‘not tell’. He seemed adamant that it was important to know if your partner cheated – I’m going to forgive him for smoking at this point, it’s a deception, but in light of the journals it seems to be trivial next to the mystery of Michael and Elizabeth.
    The only part that I am having trouble with is some of the descriptive passages – they’re a little clunky e.g., page 52 ‘She yanked back heavy seasonal drapes the length of two walls, and the room grew spacious.’ I’m still trying to picture that one.
    I’m looking forward to the the next third of the book and hoping to find out more about how Elizabeth transformed to the the person they remember, but also in seeing if Kate’s take on life and the goings on in it changes and becomes more positive from what she’s reading.

  19. TroyMartin says:

    Bernier writes with such simplicity. Yes…I could not put it down and I will be passing it onto my wife.

  20. TroyMartin says:

    I want to read more into the one summer of Kate reading her recently deceased friends’ journals. The underlying political and social conflict of the United States of America before and after September 11 is constant, but aside from references to Kate’s paranoid preparations in case of another attack, there is little insight into the characters thoughts on the world after 9/11. Perhaps it is too close for American fiction to include characters that might be provocative enough to provide a critique of the time. This plays into a key element of Bernier’s style: the characters, like those reading, are passengers.

    • That’s a good point, sometimes I forgot when reading this that it was supposed to take place just after 9/11. Kate does mention that Elizabeth’s plane crash was eclipsed by that tragedy, but apart from that, I did forget. And because of that, Kate’s paranoia often seemed excessive to me, but it probably isn’t that out of character for the States at the time. I’m sure a lot of people had contingency plans in case of another terrorist attack. In terms of a political analysis, I’m not sure it would have really fit the context of the book, which is more about personal relationships but it would’ve been quite interesting, especially given the amount of travel Chris does and the threats elsewhere.

      Glad you’re enjoying it though!

      • TroyMartin says:

        Yeah, I agree about the personal context of the narrative. The inclusion of her plans, just in case, her close call on the subway, and a number of references to the terrorist alert levels raising are almost just bit parts. The characters are well educated, articulate people who obviously care about the threat, but they do not critique the reasoning. Perhaps Bernier didn’t have more literary audience in mind…

      • TroyMartin says:

        Oh, just had a thought, the personal level taste of tradegy experienced by all in the novel and Bernier’s focus on how events affect people on a personal level suggest a hint of selfishness in the characters? SPOLIER even with the assumption that Elizabeth was having an affair hints that the characters are self absorbed…

  21. yvettebowyer says:

    hi everyone,
    I am loving this book!! I would definitely read a friends journal if left to me or perhaps if left around.. curiousity killed the cat and all that.. but then again some secrets really shouldn’t be shared!!

    My sister and my mum are urging me to read ahead so they can read it too!!

  22. First up, this isn’t the sort of book I would normally pick up for myself (but I would buy it for my mum!) – the cover-art looks a bit ‘mumsy’ (yes, I am a mum so I know that sounds odd!) – interestingly I saw an alternative edition that featured a close-up of handwriting on the cover – that book I’d pick up for myself. Trivial but I do judge a book by its cover.

    So far, although I’m finding the writing-style a bit light-weight, the story has engaged me. Perhaps its having children of my own but I find any stories about children losing their mothers, especially at a very young age, heart-breaking. It’s partly because my dad lost his mother when he was five – I look at my own five-year-old and simply can’t comprehend that situation. All very morbid, I know!

    Like others, I have found some of the descriptions over-worked but that said, some of the descriptions about the grief all the characters are experiencing are insightful and accurate.

    • I actually really love the cover! I never used to like the paperbacks with flaps before but I’m starting to really appreciate them. I think most readers judge a book by its cover, whether they realise it/admit it or not.

      I agree with you about children losing their mothers. Although I’d have found this sad a few years ago, it’d be more in an abstract way. I have two children now and one of, if not my greatest fear, is not living to see them live to adulthood – graduate high school and maybe university, get married, have children of their own, live their own lives.

  23. I picked this up after reading a particularly confronting novel, so it was like a breath of fresh air. The cover first got my attention – I love wood-framed windows – because of its inviting feel. To me, the cover says, open me, come inside to my world. As a blogger, the blurb spoke to me also – “before there were blogs, there were journals”. It got me thinking about how honest people really are in blogs, knowing people are reading them. Are journals more honest? What percentage of yourself do you really reveal in a blog, even if you are sharing an opinion? And so on…

    Keeping a journal is something I’ve aspired to do many times in my life. Note the word aspired… When I was a teenager I was inspired by Anne Frank … while my situation was nowhere near Frank’s, I do know that I bored myself with “Today so and so looked at me…” or “Today I got my hair cut…” This sounds so pretentious now, but I wanted my journals to sound interesting in case anyone ever did read them, even though I would have been mortified if they had! Since then, like Bree, I have made sporadic attempts to keep a journal. It was hard for me not to self-censor sometimes, but I got better. Around 2004-7 I kept a semi-regular journal, which I have since thrown out. I kept this journal at an extremely difficult point in my life; it helped me think out all the “stuff” in my head, to get my head around things that were really hard to understand, to hold on to hope when my head was telling me there was none (in that situation).

    Last year I started another journal, which helped me through another difficult patch, this time career related. I had such bad RSI, tendonitis and neck/shoulder pain that I was unable to work for many months. I started keeping a journal, partly as a way to exercise my hands and wrists, and on my physio’s recommendation. Some days I could write a few lines, others, half a page. But again, keeping the journal helped. I still have this one and will continue to add to it over time. I just don’t feel a need to add to it all the time. Would I want someone to read it? I’m not sure I would, really. But I also know that I do have a tendency to hold back, even in my journal, so they would probably still be bored!

    I also find that typing somehow works better for me, which is why I like blogging. The difference with my blog is that I want to share what I’ve written – sometimes it’s on the fluffier, happier side and others, it’s darker… whatever I don’t want to share, I don’t.

    So, would I read someone’s journal? Well, if they, like Elizabeth did with Kate, left it to me, yes, I would. I do think it would feel a bit strange, but the way I see it, there is a reason that it was given to you. I don’t think Elizabeth randomly left it to Kate, just because they were friends. You’d pick someone specific to do something like that. In the case that the person had died and I found their diaries, I think it would be harder to decide whether to read or not – how well did I know that person? Would I really want to know what they wrote? I do think curiosity may just win out…I’m a journalist! Of course, the other side of the coin is this…imagine what insight we’d have missed if no one had read Anne Frank’s diaries…

    I agree with Australian Bookshelf that “Kate is weighed down with both the ‘privilege’ of inheriting the journals whilst also feeling burdened by the consequences of such knowledge.” And possibly guilt, knowing that Dave is somewhat jealous that she has them, despite his anger at what he found when he read some of the later entries. I also feel sorry for Dave – he does come across a bit abrasive, but look at what he’s dealing with – the loss of his wife, bringing up their children, realising that he may not have known his wife as well as he thought he did. That’s a lot to bear and it would leak out; not surprisingly it’s Kate who bears it, because she is going to get answers/insight and all he has is questions. Has anyone seen The Descendents (2011). This reminded me a little of that.

    I don’t feel that I have really engaged with the characters yet, however, there is something in this that has me wanting to read more, and quite enjoying it besides.

    • I prefer typing too, and I think that’s because owning computers over the last 10 years has made me chronically lazy and unused to writing. In high school, I could write 20ish exercise pages without flicker. Now I can barely sign my name without getting a cramp! I continue buying journals at the beginning of each year though, and reading this book has made me wish that I’d been a bit more dedicated to them. Even if I don’t plan to pass them down to anyone else, it’s nice to have those accounts of things that have happened in your life, be they good or bad.

  24. Tracey (My4Bucks) says:

    I think I’m enjoying the novel so far, but it’s making me depressed, and thinking about my own possible death. Is anyone else feeling the same? The plot isn’t removed enough for me to distance myself from the ‘what if’ scenarios and it seems a little too close for comfort for my liking.

    I just finished reading ‘Beneath the Darkening Sky’ which has the potential to be a lot darker but this book is having a more morbid impact on my emotions than ever. How strange. Hopefully I’ll be able to shake this feeling as the narrative moves on.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t mind the writing style, although I did feel robbed when a young Elizabeth (still mourning her sister) wrote in her journal that several years worth of her writing had been destroyed by her Mother. I desperately wanted to read snippets from this period, and felt as though this was an easy way for the author to skip this period (perhaps for length purposes, or perhaps she intended to come back to this and was pressured to submit the manuscript and ran out of time, who knows).

    I loved the idea of the bookish attic although the description made me feel claustrophobic for some reason, perhaps the entry through the closet, which I’ve used for lofts before, but not for an attic.

    I was also moved by the scene on page 9, when Elizabeth’s son mentions his Mum’s dead, and Chris says: “I know buddy. I’m really sorry about that. My mom’s dead too. It’s hard isn’t it.” Wow, what a moment.

    I’ll be reading for more moments like that for sure.

  25. Tracey (My4Bucks) says:

    AND: Has anyone wondered if Michael knows of Elizabeth’s passing? Was he at her funeral? Or does he just think she changed her mind and didn’t turn up? I guess we’ll find out…

  26. Megan Warren says:

    I’ve finished reading the book and really enjoyed it. I do keep journals and I often wonder what will happen to them – I’m working on a post to blog and will pop back when it is done.

  27. Paula says:

    Hi Everyone (and Bree thanks for having us all again!)

    I have to say I am enjoying this book and am finding it hard to out down. I love the premise and how we as readers get to discover Elizabeth’s past at the same time as Kate. I can’t say there is any character I am not enjoying, they all make sense for the story and add to the effect of having a primary character only present through her journal writing.

    I would most definitely read my friend’s journals and have kept one of my own since I was twelve. My sister also kept a diary and passed away when she was 18 through suicide. It was one of the only connections I had left with her and I read them all the time. I am forever grateful that she recorded her intimate thoughts on paper, even if she couldn’t speak them aloud.

    I think the thing about journals or diaries is you ultimately know that someone will read them at some point and so you write with that in mind. I am curious as to when Elizabeth went to her lawyer (and if I missed it please let me know) to say that Kate would have her journals. Reason being that when did she consciously start writing “for Kate”. I also wonder if she didn’t talk about her past so much with her friends and family was because she knew that her journals would one day divulge that for her?

    Again loving this book. Easy to read, easy to get into. Look forward to picking it up and seeing what happens next. Also love the book size and cover!

    • Hi Paula, thanks for joining us again! I’m very sorry to hear about your sister, I can understand how important the connection to her through the journals she left must be for you. And I think in instances like that, and in this book, when a family is robbed of someone too early, it must be so important to have things like that to keep and to hold. It makes me think about the things I’d prefer my family use in this situation, given I wouldn’t want them to have my journals. I do have scrapbooks of my children, little notes and mementos, their birthday cards, photos, etc. Even though I don’t really like thinking about this sort of thing, the book is really forcing me to!

  28. I’ve been a little busy yet so haven’t quite finished the 126 pages yet, but I am really enjoying it!

    I think the way the book is written makes it really enjoyable and I think the way she explained how the dynamics of her relationships changed after her friend passed was fantastic – the feeling like she was the glue holding the two families together,

    I love that the idea of passing on a journal is so honest, it truly reveals all of your thoughts that you are to afraid or ashamed to speak out loud for fear of consequences. I love the idea that she left something behind that still lives on and allows her friend to find more things about her as a person.

    I am really looking forward to how the book plays out!

    • I also liked the glue reference, when she questions whether or not Dave and Chris could still have a friendship, given they’d only met and spent time in each other’s company due to herself and Elizabeth being good friends.

      Hope you enjoy the rest of the book! I’m looking forward to more discussion, everyone has had so much to say. It’s fantastic!

  29. So far, I’ve been really pulled in by this book. It did take me a little while to get orientated, and to work out who was who… a little reading back… but once I got with the rhythm of the story, I was hooked.

    It has it’s more mundane moments, but the emotions one each page I’m finding gut-renching. My family and I have had recent and continuing run ins with loss and cancer, and parts of this book feel very close to home.

    I like Kate. She is a difficult character, but I think this is mainly because she’s in a difficult stage of her life, quietly struggling to cope.

    I think she has been given permission to read the journals, and given the instructions in the will I would do exactly the same thing. I don’t think I’d feel comfortable doing it, but I would feel obliged to. I’m not so sure what I’d do about telling Dave and the kids… I’m hoping that the rest of the book will resolved that more.

    Does anyone else get the feeling of this being a bit like a ghost story?

  30. I am enjoying this book so much that I forgot to come and post my thoughts.
    I feel like I know the characters already, that these women were/are my friends. Kate is such a real character and maybe that is why she seems so relatable. She is going through a tough time in her life, losing her best friend and having been given instructions to read her journals from the beginning and discovering that she is so different to the woman she knew.

    I love how as Elizabeth talks to herself when she writes, for example – don’t trust him. I have thought of a few possible endings, ie – maybe the baby she aborted or the one she lost was named Michael and she dreamt she was sitting on a rug with him holding his hands? Maybe, maybe not. Or Michael is really Chris, we all know Chris does a lot of travelling.

    I do find that when Kate is talking a lot after reading just one or two journal entries I just want her to stop and go back to the journals. I guess that’s how the writer has hooked me! I cannot wait to read on and find out more!!

    Until next time,
    Kell K ;p

    • Tracey (My4Bucks) says:

      Ooh, they’re great ‘What If’s’!! I’m impressed! No wonder I don’t usually see the twist coming in a novel. I bet you always see it coming Kell, lol!

  31. I’m hugely enjoying this book, and find myself thinking about it during the day. I don’t journal but I do blog – which is similar yet also very different. My sons don’t know I blog, but one day I will give them my blog to read so they can see what the last couple of years were like for me and all of us as we went through an unexpected divorce.

    What is enamouring me with this story is the little moments of clarity or experience, like grey being the colour Kate associates with holiday, or her son asking how you can “lose” a mum or baby. Kate’s discomfort realising that Elizabeth didn’t share as much – or the important things – Kate would have expected her to.

    I find the setting of the novel adds to the themes of death as well, particularly with Kate wondering “What if’s”. I was pregnant with my second son at the time of 9/11 and it impacted the future I hoped my children would have. I think many people started journaling around that time so there would be something “left” – as well as babies, which is has just come up where I’m reading.

    The journal extracts are great, and I’m intrigued to see how Chris’ smoking comes to light, and David’s communications with Kate as she works through the journals.

    Now to do a few more jobs before I get back into reading!

  32. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    What a fascinating discussion. I am coming late to it as I didn’t have the opportunity to read the first section in time for this post, and then when I did begin reading i couldn’t stop.

    I have a single over stuffed diary from the middle of my teen years hidden on my shelf and
    I have yet to figure out what to do with it. I don’t want to throw it out but neither would I be happy for anyone to read it, especially not my own teenagers!

    i would read a friend’s journals had they been willed to me, not only to honour her request, but also because I don’t think I could resist. The examination of friendship is really interesting in the novel. Most of us keep secrets, even from our closest friends and it made me think a little about my closest relationships and what I, and they, keep hidden.

    It did take me a little while to warm up to Kate but I related to her in terms of her feeling vulnerable to fears of disaster befalling her family and fighting to be more rational about those concerns. It is something I have struggled with more or less since having children, that fear of loss, given both my parents lost siblings at a young age.

    I’m looking forward to the next discussion post!

  33. Sorry I have been so lax, but I find that even I am intrigued with this book. The whole concept of a friend not being the person you thought they were works very well so far. Learning that that someone bears no resemblence to the person they grew up to me is great.
    Whilst I feel no kinship with either woman, I am enjoying Kate’s shock as we continue forth. Already though I get a sneaking suspicion that not is all as it seems.

  34. […] Discuss this book further at the August read a long being hosted by Bree  at All The Books I Can Read […]

  35. […] PS This probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve been following along – for the first section check out:… […]

  36. […] am participating in a read along hosted by Bree @1 Girl 2 Many Books & sponsored by Australia’s own Allen & […]

  37. […] am participating in a read along hosted by Bree @1 Girl 2 Many Books & sponsored by Australia’s own Allen & […]

  38. […] I read The Unfinished Journals by Elizabeth D in a read-a-long hosted by Bree @ 1Girl2ManyBooks over a three week period. I really enjoyed my participation in the discussion posts and really […]

  39. […] part in a read-along of The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nicole Bernier. Bree from All The Books I Can Read is hosting and doing a great job – if you click on the link, you’ll see her thoughtful […]

  40. […] part in a read-along of The Unfinished Journals of Elizabeth D by Nicole Bernier. Bree from All The Books I Can Read is hosting and doing a great job – if you click on the link, you’ll see her thoughtful […]

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