Steeped in deceptions and immoderate passions, the Canary family consists of Gordon, head of the household and secretly gay; his wife, Doris, a compulsive liar; and their daughters—promiscuous Marcy, eerily contented Sonja…and Joan, the mute, brain-damaged, musically brilliant youngest child. As the family laughs, loves and lies, Joan quietly listens, blending their discordant conversation into harmony.

Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year (Margaret Atwood)
Publishers Weekly Book of the Year
A Village Voice Book of the Year
A Newsday Book of the Year
An Book of the Year
A Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
A Maclean’s Magazine Best Book of the Year
A NOW Magazine Best Book of the Year
A Quill & Quire Best Book of the Year
An Ottawa Citizen Best Book of the Year
A Hot Type’s Best Canadian Fiction of All Time
Shortlisted for The Scotia Bank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for The Governor General’s Award for Fiction
A Trillium Book Award Finalist

critical acclaim

“Count this wickedly funny and moving novel the year’s sleeper. It’s unlikely that anything else will come along that will equal its combination of audacious concept, inspired characterization, frank sexuality, ribald humor and poignant message. This undeniably strange saga is related in beautifully polished prose shot through with witty asides, startlingly poetic images and a series of hilarious scenes that beg to be read aloud. Gowdy’s zany imagination succeeds in making improbable adventures seem logical, true and touching. For all their eccentricity and sexual waywardness, the Canarys are a family whose love for each other is palpable. A find indeed.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The most purely pleasurable book I’ve read, not just this year, but in the past several. A dazzling, wholly original piece of fiction.”
Newsday Literary Celebration 1997

“Very funny and touching. Barbara Gowdy’s comic sense is both inventive and tough. But the comedy is dark, rooted in sad, alarming secrets and mysteries. Gowdy seems concerned with the nuances of human relations and with the delicate balancings of art itself. She steers her story masterfully between fantasy and probability, between caricature and portrayal, between broad, cruel social comedy and a sympathetic understanding of thwarted and unhappy people in this almost flawless novel. Gowdy deserves much more attention than she has received in the United States.”
The New York Review of Books

Mister Sandman cocks a snoot at conventions, both moral and literary, and is so brilliantly crafted and flat-out fun to read that Gowdy makes jubilant sinners of us all…. Gowdy’s luminous, deceptively conversational style shuffles time frames and points of view so smoothly that her intricate narrative flows in molten simplicity. The novel is a perfectly turned parable, but its characters are multidimensional humans, convincingly drawn by a wry and knowing eye that sees all of their frail goofiness and loves them, not despite but because of their flaws.”
The Washington Post

“Gowdy is the literary Diane Arbus. Her sentences have a habit of sprinting off in the usual fashion and landing somewhere so unexpected that the reader, carried along for the ride, clutches the rails…. Mister Sandman ends up looking hideously and hilariously familiar, as Gowdy maps reality with the confounding complexity it deserves.”
The Voice Literary Supplement

“A dazzling, wholly original piece of fiction…. Gowdy’s work really inhabits a country of its own, a parallel place that runs on the logic of dreams, or takes its guiding principles from misheard song lyrics…. In the end, Joan has a big surprise for the family, but it is a benevolent, and by this point the plot has become the least of the book’s many pleasures. What the author gives the reader is the elegance of her writing and the great, hilarious, foible-filled humanity of her characters. The novel ends with the entire family playing catch with Joan in the backyard at midnight, a scene that resonates off the last page, into that rarely occupied place that exists just beyond the closing of a book.”

“One of the strangest and most heartwarming paeans to family ties you’ll ever read. A+”
Entertainment Weekly

“Hilarious. With Mister Sandman, Gowdy will surely join the ranks of Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro and other great dark-humored literary beguilers. The novel is a true literary original, a perfectly pitched creation in which story, ideas and authorial voice merge so explosively, so felicitously that the reader feels compelled to exclaim, “Yes!” on almost every page.”
L.A. Weekly Literary Supplement

“There is an astonishing sensibility in Barbara Gowdy’s Mister Sandman, which bounds, sprite-like, into the farthest corners of lunacy while staying tethered to the author’s very real understanding of love. Gowdy’s grasp of the absurd is strangely plausible, and she confidently winds the story to its quirky, emotional end, when the Canarys recognize each other at last in all their eccentric splendor.”
Elle Magazine

“Truly a monumentally entertaining, brilliantly constructed novel…. The texture of the novel is always bordering on the tragic, the disastrous; but disaster never strikes without being skewered by an eerie, raucous humour. Barbara Gowdy is poised to be the next big thing.”
The Bloomsbury Review

“With such an intricate plot, a less talented author might end up with a jumbled mess. Not so Gowdy. Through all of the outrageousness and flaws of the characters, we never forget the love they have for one another despite their faults. And Gowdy’s sense of humor is so evident that even when you remind yourself how dysfunctional the Canarys are, you just can’t help but somehow relate to them—and even like them.”
The Orlando Sentinel

“A novel of unsurpassed humor and compassion with comparisons to Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler and John Irving. An exceptional work, imaginative and poetic, Mister Sandman offers an original perspective on the human condition that is a rare treat indeed.”
Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers”

“I nominate Barbara Gowdy’s Mister Sandman as the surprise book of the year. Few novels can match its wacky family antics, poetic quality, subtle wit and hilarious asides.”

“Gowdy deserves to be catapulted into the front rank of Canadian novelists.”
Literary Review/UK

“This is one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read. Gowdy has the poetic, sharp-edged voice of a Sylvia Plath. She has performed a sleight-of-hand—making what is strange seem normal.”
The Scotsman

“A formidable novel.”

“Gowdy masterfully notches up her third novel. Her prose is a dream that will keep you up all night.”
Time Out

Mister Sandman displays the same quirkiness, the same mordant sense of humour, the same ear for the vernacular, the same innocent-eyed acceptance of the bizarre, that characterizes Gowdy’s two previous books. She surprises and delights; she also—which is rarer—gives us moments which are at the same time preposterous and strangely moving.”
The Times Literary Supplement

“Gowdy is an immensely funny writer. Mister Sandman is really about the family, and the secrets it keeps. Joan, the Christ-like central figure, with her autistic characteristics, is a beautifully drawn character. But the minor characters in the book are just as compelling. Essential reading.”

Mister Sandman is funny and moving at the same time…no mean feat. Gowdy invites the reader’s complicity and makes us fall in love with her characters. In this, her third novel, she has established herself as a subtle and original talent.”
The Observer

“A novel of great wit and warmth.”
The Mail on Sunday

“Brilliant writing.”
The Morning Herald/Australia

“Move over Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields.”
The Herald Sun/Australia

“How many ways are there to rave? Mister Sandman kidnapped me, enveloped me in a dream-like haze, and dropped me back to reality breathless. Gowdy’s eye is ruthless, yet tender. She has the courage to speak the unspeakable, yet what she has to say is often wise, rather than shocking. Her characters’ worlds are infused with sexuality, but also with a potent vein of spirituality. What leavens the mix is her humour, her wit. Her polished prose is as seamless as Alice Munro’s, her wit as sharp as Margaret Atwood’s, her vision entirely her own. Astonishing, vibrant, glowing—Mister Sandman is an amazing achievement.”
The Ottawa Citizen

“Just one of the miracles performed by this brilliant writer is an immediate emotional connection between the most bizarre of her characters and the reader. Gowdy is fiercely observant, intelligent and funny. She has Margaret Atwood’s sharp eye for the preposterous. But in Gowdy’s attitude to characters, there is no derision, just a helpless tenderness.”
The Globe and Mail

“Mister Sandman is full of wonderful touches. Playful, witty, and wise, it is as good as the much-praised We So Seldom Look On Love. Gowdy has been very sure-footed in her literary evolution; her new book will only take her further.”
Quill & Quire, starred review

“Brilliant. Gowdy has crafted an achingly affecting and wildly funny novel that still dances dangerously close to the edge. Highly recommended.”
NOW Magazine, 4-star review

“A daring and ambitious project, fortified by Gowdy’s complete command of her narrative voice, with its wit, its brilliance of observation, its aptness of metaphor. Gowdy creates a world strongly flavoured by the grotesque but also filled with miracles and suffused, at times, with a ‘heavenly light’.”
The Toronto Star

Mister Sandman is likely to catapult this rising literary star into a whole new orbit of fame and regard.”
Maclean’s Magazine.

“In bumbling for superlatives to describe Mister Sandman, you’ll find the everyday ones lack the necessary jam. Astonishing, wonderful, marvelous—fine words but not the mots juste. A novel like this one, that pulses with originality, humour, humanity and intelligence demands a less hackneyed superlative. Something like “mirabudous.”
The Georgia Straight

“With her new novel, Mister Sandman, Toronto writer Barbara Gowdy leaves little doubt that the international praise she earned for fiction of first-rate quality is deserved.”
The London Free Press