Mona in Three Acts

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

This book was a bit hard to get into. I'm not sure if it was the original writing or just the translation of it, but I couldn't really enjoy it because of it. I thought the story was intriguing, and so were the characters, but again, I couldn't really enjoy it because of the writing.
I'm sad to say it wasn't for me.
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1.65 Stars
I only liked one third of the book, so it gets one third of five stars.


I really enjoyed the first act of Mona's life but once she grew up her life, and the book, became quite boring and mundane. The story felt like it was written by a first time author who had trouble with the plot, and it was lacking in character development. 

Mona leads an uninteresting life of neglect not only by herself but also by those around her. The story was trite and uninteresting - an amateurish and then script, with pointless details of every action, that meant nothing. 

Maybe it was in the translation but Mona in Three Acts gets the prize for pedestrian writing . The events are banal. I have never plodded through a book like this one, I almost gave up at one gets the prize for prosaic writing, I was really disappointed with the last two thirds of this novel.
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Thank you Netgalley and the author for giving me Arc of Mona in Three Acts. 

There are 3 parts of the story. First are Mona childhood, the second one was when she was in her twenties and the last part was in her thirties. 

Mona lost her mom at young age because of the accident. But she feels nothing because her mom kinda harsh on her. 

Mona's father got married to Marie and her mood changes every second. She has to sacrificed her own feelings to help Marie being happy and make peace for the family.

Mona got on my nerves a lot. I was like why she chose Louis? How can she stayed with that guy for a long time?  Goshhh

This is a good book but I need more dialogues. I skipped some parts where there are no dialogue lol
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We first meet Mona when she is almost ten, locked in a dark room in the basement by her mother, Agnes and accepting the punishment as her due since she has internalized her mother's criticisms of her being difficult and poorly behaved. But, the cruel discipline soon ends when her parents are in a devastating car accident that kills Agnes.

Mona's distant father, Vincent, waits only nine months before marrying Marie whose moods are erratic. Marie often lapses into paranoia, believing Mona or her brother Alexander's benign behavior to be a deliberate slight. Mona learns to repress her emotions to humor Marie and keep peace in the family. Highly verbal with a rich interior life, the precocious child is observant and insightful but given her age is not always accurate in her observations. 

Part II finds Mona, in her mid-twenties, at a turning point in her life when she accepts a position with an acclaimed theater producer/director and meets a famous author while Part III presents Mona in her mid-thirties as she faces personal and professional crises wondering if she can ever escape the patterns she learned as a child.

For me, reading Mona in Three Acts, set in Belgium, written by Griet Op de Beeck, and translated by Michele Hutchison, was a pleasure. I really felt for Mona in my bones, and I particularly enjoyed Part I, when she was trying to understand adult problems through a child's perspective. Above all, the book is a character study, and its structure allows the reader to watch Mona's evolution over time. Personally, I also really like books that have gaps like this where the events of the intervening years are puzzles to solve.

Mona's central challenge—the pull between fulfilling family responsibility and expectations and pursuing individual passions—as well as her challenging relationships with her father and stepmother reflect universal conflicts, and I think many readers can if not see themselves in Mona certainly empathize with her. She also has some brilliant reflections: I highlighted many passages!

I was satisfied with everything in the book, but I did wish the novel had developed certain areas more, particularly how outsiders like spouses and boy/girlfriends relate to the family dynamics and a subplot about a conflict between Marie and one of Mona's younger siblings which felt incomplete.

I really enjoyed Mona in Three Acts, and I wasn't ready for it to end. Readers who enjoy literary fiction, character-driven novels, and books in translation should consider this book.
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This was an interesting book because it is not at all my usual reading fare. Mona is divided into three parts, the main character at different ages, starting as a child. The story is depressing and saddening - hard to read for these reasons, as well as because I too have lost my dad to cancer and also because of the child abuse scenes. Mona didn't luck out in very well when it came to mothers. The style of writing was quick and engaging, and to me nothing was lost in translation. This would be a good book to recommend if you want something gritty and something that doesn't end in a happily-ever-after romance. I interpret it as a story of a woman coming of age and learning to know who she herself is and subsequently learning to love herself. Thanks, Netgalley, for this arc. This novel isn't what I expected, but it was still a pretty good read.
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Fans of the dysfunctional family story will find this Dutch version interesting.  It's divided into three parts, each detailing (sometimes too much so) Mona's life beginning when she is 9 and then in her twenties, and finally as she resolves things with her dying father.  It's well written and translated but it felt a bit cold to me.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  A good opportunity to read an important writer in translation.
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Split into three distinct moments in a woman's life, we follow our title character Mona as she grows from a young girl to an independent woman. Her life and relationships are less than ideal as she deals with the hardships of her upbringing. 

This was a rough story, as it shows how detrimental our parents can be to our overall development. Mona has to struggle with forms of destruction—an emotional abusive mother and an absent father. While there were some funny moments, I just couldn't connect with any characters and that could have been because of the fact that it was translated. 

Loved the concept, just not for me.
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“Thanks NetGalley and the publisher for my  review copy “

Although I had a hard time to get into the story at the beginning, in the first act as the title suggests as well, the story picks up a lot after the second part and it makes good and reliable points in a young woman life nowadays. The way she sees life now and how she got there, her upbringing was an interesting read overall, heartbreaking at times but as said, reliable.
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I loved following the three stages of Mona. Mona as a child, Mona as an Adolescent, and Mona now. Her transformation, self discovery, and will to persevere was so entertaining and heartwarming, What a beautiful story 

Synopsis: Mona’s demanding mother ruled their home until a car crash took her life and changed their family forever. Left to tend to a distant father and a needy younger brother, Mona finds her new role almost too much to bear. And when a new stepmother, troubled and depressed, adds yet another crack to the family portrait, Mona’s forced to shoulder an even greater share of the emotional burden.

Somewhere between her responsibility to her family and to her own life, Mona finds a route of escape: in a theater career she craves. But for every challenge ahead—romantic, professional, sexual, and familial—Mona wonders how much of her future has already been defined by the challenges of her past.

An emotional, funny, and universal novel about the people, experiences, and choices that make us who we are, Mona in Three Acts is a revelatory journey of a woman’s self-discovery, forgiveness, and courage to finally speak her truth.
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3.5 stars but not quite 4 for me.

Every now and then, I read a book by an author from another country that was published in the language of that country and translated into English. When I do I often wonder if the translated version reflects what the author intended or reflects how good the writing might have been in the original language. I can’t say I was taken by the writing, but I was by the story. I was drawn to read this because of my friend Jaidee’s beautiful and powerful review. I didn’t love it as much as Jaidee, but I appreciated the story and I was moved.  It’s a coming of age story of a young girl in a dysfunctional family and how the things that happened in her childhood impacted her life as she becomes a woman. It was heartbreaking at times and I couldn’t help but root for Mona every step of the way as we see her as a nine year old girl and then in her twenties and thirties in the next two parts or “acts”. But I can’t say I liked any of the other characters very much. 
At nine when she loses her mother, Mona seems to intuitively respond by caring for her younger brother. She finds it hard to shed a tear, and perhaps we have an idea why, but yet she is clearly affected and confused about how she should feel, at one point thinking that she doesn’t know if she should feel happy when she’s reading a book. Part One was the most affecting for me as Mona and her brother survive what a consider questionable parenting on the part of her father. A stepmother who definitely has issues and constantly needs reassurance and acceptance, puts Mona in the position of having to cater to her stepmother’s emotional needs while setting aside her own. The turmoil in this family and in this little girl’s head is depicted in such a realistic way and I can only say how sad I was for this little girl.

In the second part Mona is forging her way in the theater world as a “dramaturge”. ( I had to look that up  “a literary advisor or editor...who adapts scripts”.) She’s also struggling through relationships with men. Not much seems to have changed with Mona as she always seems to concede to those around her - her family, her boyfriend, her work associates. In the third part, in her thirties, when things about the past come to light through her father’s death bed conversations, I felt hopeful for Mona and that she might just find herself and her own voice. A powerful statement of how traumatic, or emotionally stifling events in the past can impact one for years to come. Even though I didn’t love it, it was worth reading.

You should read my friend Jaidee’s beautiful review which led me this book :

I received an advanced copy of this book from Amazon Crossing through NetGalley.
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Thank you to AmazonCrossing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This contemporary novel centers around coming of age in a dysfunctional family, and shows how events in our childhood shape how we think, act and interact as adults. The story is told in three acts from the POV of Mona - as a young child of 9, as a young woman in her late 20s, and eleven years later. The author does a remarkable job of capturing the thoughts and feelings for Mona in each time period of her life - but most particularly as a young child. Unfortunately, Mona retains that naive childish outlook on life, which really got on my nerves after a while and made reading through the second and third part of the book a bit of a slog. Finally, at the very end, she grabs back her life, and makes what seems to be a promising turn toward happiness, by turning away from the manipulators that have controlled her life for so long.

Overall, this was very well-written, but about 150 pages too long for my taste.
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The cover drew me in initially but the moment you read it, you realize that there is more than just judging a book by its cover. Mona's story was heartbreaking but its complexity is a standout. Themes featured in this book were hard to read but they written so beautifully you just can't help but be moved.
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Mona in Three Acts was originally written by Griet Op De Beeck and later translated from Flemish to English. Since Dutch is my first language and that is very similar to Flemish, I could really tell at times that it was a translation. The way certain things are explained as well as certain sayings reflected the original language quite a bit. It was very recognisable for me, which I thought was fun.

The story is about Mona and we learn about her at three different stages in her life. First as a young girl of about ten years old, then as a young adult of about 24 and finally as a grown woman of 35. For me, the first stage was the most interesting one. Mona makes so many wise observations for a small girl that it made me wonder whether kinds truly understand that much of what is going on. Additionally, I think it’s incredible to see how parents can screw up the ideas and thoughts of children without even realising it. Mona’s paradigm of the world is completely distorted because of how she is treated and it shows throughout her entire life.

As the book continued and showed us more about Mona as a grown-up I was constantly waiting for her to realise how screwed up she had become and I really wanted her to throw her life around and live for herself more. To do what would make her happy. That didn’t happen until the last ten pages or so. It sort of just went on and on and on.

In the end I wasn’t very excited about this book. Not enough happened to keep me interested for the 449 pages that this book contains.
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Mona in Three Acts will be in my top ten books this year, My heart ached and I was horrified.  I laughed and cried because I know a Mona, but this book, it demands to be read. Thank you NetGalley for opportunity to read for a fair review.
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'Lying is a national sport in our family. We learned it when we were little and it’s gotten into our bodies like blood and water for other people.'

Mona in three acts is an emotional journey, maybe too downhearted and crawling for some readers but it clicked with me. This is a novel about the way we are shaped by our families, not often for the best. Three Acts, part one and it is 1976 when Mona says, “They say your eyes get used to the dark”, from a tiny room in the corner of the basement. She’s in trouble again with her mother, she is not the good kid, that’s her brother Alexander’s role. The punishment feels excessive to the reader, as Mona sits in that dark space fearful of mommy’s wrath. Mona seems to be nothing but a disappointment simply for existing, a hard woman obviously as Mona is only 9, stricter with Mona “because I needed it” and then she exits the family in a tragic instant. She’ll never be able to prove to her mother she is a good girl. Her maternal Grandmother knows what the children need to recover and that is order, routine so steps in to take care of them all until… daddy gets sick of her meddling and judging.

Mona’s father wants them to meet a very special visitor even though only months have passed since their Mommy’s death, a woman named Marie who is fated to become their new mommy. Things aren’t going to get any easier. Some children get to be children and some, like Mona, have to fuss over the grown ups. Stuck in the middle with her maternal grandmother’s disgust for her father’s speedy new marriage and not wanting to invoke her father’s displeasure, she stuffs down her own feelings. Marie is emotionally demanding, quick to tears, feeling the family isn’t grateful for all the effort she puts forth as their new mother. It is here that Mona learns to fake happiness, to put her best face forward and make sure that Marie is, at all costs, appreciated. Weight is piled on her shoulders and with her father’s distant nature, this marriage and Marie’s pregnancy is more Mona’s cross to bear, already involved in nurturing her brother Alexander she is caring for the newest addition, because Marie needs rest. It’s all just too much for Marie, right? Everything has always felt like Mona’s fault, more so now. If someone is unhappy, storms off, feels sad, it’s because of her. The weight of the world.

Mona’s twenties find her feeling ‘defined by the things she is not’, though there is hope working in theater.  She becomes a ‘dramaturge’ for one of the most important theater directors. It’s a world away from her family, but somehow they still seep into her life. She accepts love in f half-measures, it’s what she learned growing up around first, her mother Agnes, her disapproving Grandma after the accident and lastly her replacement mommy Marie and her disinterested father. As for her lover Lois, why not stay with him? If his touch doesn’t set her on fire, well it’s okay. If he is self-centered, not fully in the relationship, well he must have his reasons, it’s still love. He is a writer, it demands all of his focus, attention, surely she has to understand that? Life has never cared much for the state of her well being, not even her own important work is enough to give her the confidence to define herself as something more than what her family or lover has decided she is. She has been surrounded by difficult characters, whose only constant is their theatrics, which may well have prepared her for her job. So much of her life has been packed away, much like her own mother Agnes whom really is more a faded memory, never to be spoken of as not to upset Marie. Her father has been, though, almost as absent as the dead. I know it comes off as a lot of whingeing, and many readers will think ‘hell, pick yourself up and make the life you want’, and some people are strong enough, confident enough to do it and say ‘the hell with the lot of you.’ But during the formative years, some people shrink deeper into themselves and start believing the version their family has decided they are meant to be. They learn to be pleasing, to convince themselves that any scrap is enough. They want more for others forgetting themselves in the process and you see this in how she cares for her brother Alexander and half sister Anne Marie. It’s strange how in many families, there is often one person (more if you’re unlucky) like Marie, who can strike fear into everyone, why do we succumb to such abuse, long after we have the freedom to walk away? Physical abuse is easier to recognize, it’s those that distort our versions of ourselves that are hardest to expose, especially when everyone else is so good at playing along, ‘keeping the peace’. I absolutely understand such people with their ‘toxic unhappiness’, how like a disease, a disaster.

Part three takes us to the heart of Mona’s relationship with her father. It is relief to understand the why of things, but it changes nothing of what children suffer through. For the reader as much as Mona her father has been absent, a non-entity whom only seems to hide and let others deal with the difficult situations. Mona has to learn sometime to toughen up, to demand what she deserves, because if you just keep lying down and taking it, people will never stop walking all over you. It may come late, but she may just learn to stand up and stop excusing the selfishness of others and walk on until she finds something better.  This isn’t a happy novel, Mona’s life has been a misery that she hasn’t understood how to climb out of, but there is hope for us all. If you ever wanted to understand what goes on inside the mind of a pleaser, you are privy to it from childhood on. Mona’s voice as a child was genuine, I felt so sorry for her. It’s a fiction that childhood is the happiest time in the lives of all, there are so many Monas out there, it makes you sick to think of it. I wonder, had her mother lived, though difficult she was, would Mona have rebelled eventually? Become someone else entirely? Just a thought.

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

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“People being angry with me, I really can’t handle that.” This explains Mona completely. She can’t have people being angry with her so she just says and does what people would like for her to do! Mona in Three Acts is the story of Mona coming of age. The story starts with her as a child, with a mother who is way too hard on her and favors her brother over Mona, and a father who works all the time and is never around. When her mother passes, her father moves on to Marie. Marie has all kinds of issues. When Marie has another daughter, Mona steps up to take care of her and her dad is still not around. Then it moves on to Mona as an adult. Mona reflects on her childhood and who she is and what she does. I have so many passages highlighted in this story- it was beautiful! 
Thank you netgalley and Amazon Crossing for the ARC.
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3.75 stars rounded up! Mona in Three Acts is a tragic story outlining important years in Mona's life. It shows how events in our childhood will shape how we interact as adults. Important people in her life would constantly manipulate her into being who they wanted her to be, and finally at the end she grabs hold of her life and happiness and makes a 180 towards happiness.
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It took me a while to get into this novel of family dynamics and family dysfunction, but I found it exerted more and more of a grip on me as the narrative progressed and by the end I was fully invested in the characters and felt great empathy for them. As the title suggests, the story is in three parts, the first being set in Mona’s childhood, the second when she is in her twenties and the third in her thirties. It was the first part I had the most trouble with as everything is seen through the child’s perception and I simply didn’t find the voice convincing. However, once the novel got into its stride with Mona as an adult, then her point of view became compelling and often very moving. The book opens with the death of her mother in a car crash, and although the mother was a troubled soul, naturally the loss of her parent affects Mona deeply, a situation not helped by the arrival of a stepmother who brings to the situation her own difficult and demanding character. Thereafter Mona has to work hard to develop any self-esteem and self-knowledge, and this struggle is brought vividly and empathetically to life. The novel is well-paced, with excellent characterisation and believable relationships, and narrated with great intelligence and insight.
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I was excited to read this book.... I’ve enjoy other books from the Netherlands. 
Belgium is bordered by the Netherlands.
So, as soon as I learned about this book - [Thank You, Jaidee...>her review and passion for this book is heartfelt and wonderful], .....I downloaded a copy myself.

“Mona In Three Acts” was ‘surprisingly’ much longer than other novels I’ve read from this region of the world.  I felt it was too long.  The translation was fine...but there were pages upon pages of very ordinary descriptions of daily much so ....that after awhile- ordinary ( something I usually love, as ordinary is ‘real’).... was TOO ORDINARY....
I appreciated Mona’s Innocence- vulnerability - and her grief from having lost her biological mother as a young girl - but I began to tire of Mona’s child voice.....and the dialogue. I teetered back-and-forth between compassion for Mona and being bored myself. 

I appreciated a lot about this story, .....( how these characters felt- how Mona handled abuse and neglect - etc.), ....but I also felt grumpy - at times.  
As a 67 year old reading this book —I got itchy with pages of explanations of things I already knew.  I know what a cardiologist is.  I’ve seen the movie “The Sound of Music” enough times - that to read an entire chapter about the movie - Mona explaining it to her six year old brother...just felt annoying: 

Then there were parts - where I paused....feeling annoyed & puzzled by the ‘choice’ of visuals...
Here’s an example:
      “I’d like to share my food with the children in Africa, especially when it’s Belgian endive, or when Marie has cooked pork chops that are so dry and chewy you could beat a small animal to death with them”. 

Beat a dead animal??? Why did Mona pick such a phrase? 
I’ll tell you why...
Our little 9 year old protagonist - Mona -  over heard her daddy say it when Marie ( stepmother), wasn’t around.  
Mona thought it was secretly funny.   I didn’t. 

Following Mona’s life from a child to an adult....400 plus pages...became too daunting for me. My patients were being tested. 

The author definitely can tap into our emotions - but with the combination of the writing itself being simplistic... ( a few emotional outbursts)...and the book’s length ...
I felt a lot was being asked from adult readers.....
If this book was 200 pages shorter....I may have enjoyed this more.  

I do applaud the author’s insights into complex human relationships....exploring universal themes.
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Enjoyed this book. Kept me interested all the way through. Would recommend to a fellow reader.  Love the cover.
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