#ShadowGiller: Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo

After many years, and a conscious effort on Priya’s part to cut ties between them, it all came flooding back when she received this message from Prakash on her new Twitter account: Hi. Write me.

She doesn’t want him to think there might be any reason not to, so she does. And then she goes so far as to invite him to come by for a visit; an invitation that was meant to suggest that she was unaware of any reason why she shouldn’t.

He was an unusual friend. A soft drug. He had a way of healing me, making me strong again. / It seemed ungrateful, callous, to delete his message.

Polar Vortex takes its readers deep inside Priya’s head; to her doubts and insecurities about the past, particularly her long friendship with Prakash. Priya, who comes to Canada from Trinidad to study and ends up staying; who finally feels free to discover who she is, falling hard for her roommate Fiona; who becomes friends with Prakash, remaining close to him on and off over many years as she goes into and out of relationships. Prakash, who doggedly pursues her, hoping for a change of heart.

Priya’s conflicting thoughts about her past are relentless; it obviously still has a grip on her life, all these years later.

But now she is in her late fifties, married to Alexandra for six years, and thought she had successfully left everything and everyone behind.

Priya’s secrecy about her past looms large as the women prepare to have a big part of it walk through their door, deepening the cracks in their marriage; the cracks Priya has been working hard to ignore. Alex’s view is that “one can’t really hold onto the past. Not if you want to move forward. We all eventually relieve ourselves of things and people no longer in our lives.”

But even as I foresaw the possibility of a rift between her and me, as the days wore on, I realized how much I wanted him to come, and it startled me.

Three quarters of the way through the book, when Prakash finally arrives, the narrative voice switches from Priya to Alex; a brief respite from Priya’s thoughts, and a chance to learn more about Alex and the way she sees things. (The scene of the three of them in the house together was so well done that I felt tense and uncomfortable as I read it.)

So who will I be when Prakash gets here? The person he once knew, or the one Alex lives with?

Unfortunately, we don’t get the chance to see things from Prakash’s perspective. We will never know what type of guy he really is–what role he really played in Priya’s life and vice versa–we can only go by Priya’s account of him and from what Alex learns during his visit. Is it true what he says of Priya? “You’ve always kept me close, close enough for your needs, but just out of reach for mine.” Or does he have a history of over-stepping his boundaries?

Further Reading:

This book sent me to google to find out more about the Ugandan Refugee crisis of 1972-74

Lindy says:The underlying unease—all that‘s unspoken between two women who‘ve been married six years and also between two longtime friends—made for a suspenseful read.”

Penny says:I am quite conflicted (and was sometimes bored) by this read and I think there were too many narrative styles or techniques and threads introduced that didn’t fully come together for me.”

Marcie says:The heart of the story in Polar Vortex spirals around our efforts to construct and reconstruct the truth, to build and rebuild our selves, to create and sustain meaningful connections in our lives.”

16 thoughts on “#ShadowGiller: Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo

    • Naomi says:

      The author does such a good job of showing how complex relationships/emotions can be–nothing about it is black and white–and how hard it is to just “get over” something.

  1. wadholloway says:

    I always prefer just one voice, I guess so I can pretend I am privy to the author’s thoughts. And I like the tension between what the protagonist says is happening and thinks is happening, rather than just switching POVs (or is that PsOV?). I hate “feeling tense and uncomfortable” but I love discovering how other people, and people (nearly) my age, deal with awkward relationships and all those mistakes in the past.

    • Naomi says:

      I also love t when the characters are around my age – I find myself not as likely to pick up a book with young characters anymore. Although, when I do, I usually like it anyway – ha!

    • Naomi says:

      Trying not to give anything way… I don’t think I’ve read a book that focuses on this specific tension between two people, so I really enjoyed it!

  2. annelogan17 says:

    I think I’d really like this one actually, the tension between people is always the best and most seductive kind of tension I think, at least, it’s the one I prefer to read about 🙂

  3. BuriedInPrint says:

    LIke you, I found that last section of the book uncomfortable to read; by that time we are so invested in Priya’s perspective that it’s disorienting to see things differently. We’ve already chatted about the impact of not having Prakash’s voice in the mix, so I won’t repeat all that; I did wonder whether I would feel differently about it after some time had passed, but I still would have liked to see the additional layer. Nonetheless, I can also see why she might have elected to focus on the two women instead. (Also, thank you kindly for linking to my review!)

    • Naomi says:

      Hmm… You know, it could have been as simple as Mootoo not knowing herself what all her characters are really thinking. Maybe she just couldn’t authentically “become” Prakash?

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