What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman was published in July 2010 to reviews that hailed it as a “gripping” and “extraordinary” story of a family torn apart by tragedy. This is Norman’s tenth book; he has written both fiction and nonfiction. His collection has earned him a reputation for being a “gentle, deliberate” author who is also a “master craftsman” and an expert of precision. The novel’s 256 pages manage to pack in close to thirty years of history and more than several lifetimes worth of tragedy.
Most critics agree that the subject matter is very dark, especially considering the large number of deaths that occur in the pages of the novel itself. However, despite the depressing events, reviewers agree that Norman managed to create a novel that wasn’t overwhelmed or darkened by the tragedy it contained. It is “never overwhelmingly dark or morbid”; critics attribute this to Norman’s talent for wit, dry humor, and “readable style.” Reviewers note Norman’s way of using “precise details” and “crisp” descriptions that demonstrate a “great delicacy” with words. This novel brings to life the slowly dying art form of letter writing, and it does so in a touching and emotionally gripping way.
At times, because of Norman’s focus on “everyday details” of the lives of the characters, the novel can read very slowly and monotonously; on the other hand, such normalcy amidst the dramatic events adds balance to what could be a grim tale. The choice of Wyatt, an “emotionally reticent” narrator, allows Norman to tell the events with understandable regret, longing for forgiveness, and an intelligent recounting of events. Wyatt’s memory is remarkably human, fixating on last moments with family members before their death, analyzing every word and action. The novel reads as a true letter would from a man seeking redemption and forgiveness from his daughter. There is great emotional power in the book, and readers will have a hard time not being touched by the tragic and moving events described.